Surviving Home by Katerina Canyon

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Paperback, 108 pgs.
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Surviving Home by Katerina Canyon is a collection of poems that reflect on how home is not always the haven many of us feel that it is or should be. “The vast dark but sunlight-speckled ocean/While knowing they have everywhere/And nowhere in the world to flee.//” (from “Involuntary Endurance,” pg. 13)

The opening poems of this collection explore the dark shadows of home, and the narrator often tells us that they wish for a “happy ending,” but these are not those kinds of poems. Canyon unflinchingly explores the scars of abuse, neglect, and the fear that propels the narrator to consider suicide. “I held the knife in my hand/I propped open the blade/I sharpened it against petrified wood/But I could not slice my flesh//” (from “I Wish I Could Tell You This Has a Happy Ending,” pg. 15) The poems also explore what it means to be a woman and a Black woman in a white world.

These poems make you weep. In “Thoracic Biology,” the narrator says, “For the most part I want to learn to let go,/to hurt a little less./My heart is what hurts the most.//Where did I learn to/breathe through the pain, to/cut off the sword piercing through//” I find that I do this; try to breathe through the pain of whatever moment I’m in. Where did we learn to do that? Why is it OK that we need to do this? My experiences are not the same as Canyon’s or any other Black person, but I empathize with those feelings of deep loss, fear, and emptiness. These poems make you want to take action; reach inside these lines and pull these young children out and protect them from harm.

At 13, I found a Bra

Along my Sierras grows an
    orchard of knowledge of good
    and evil. I take my beatings. I 
    bind myself in woman's hood.

I hook the clasps
along my curved spine.
Only the band knows
the stress of my heart.

I am told every woman 
pays her debt with pain.

    When the daffodil opens,
    the last breath of childhood releases.

Canyon asks the reader how can we survive home when it is at the root of so much trauma? Shall we keep on praying as the narrator suggests in “A Plea to the Inane”? Or do we “hold my brother’s hand./I clench my breath./His scream lowers to a bleat.//” (pg. 47, “All Day Long”)? How can so much pain not force us to go crazy, to lose our minds? Surviving Home by Katerina Canyon is a harsh look at abuse, racism, gender discrimination, and so much more; it is a testament to survival and what it means to hold hands and push through the pain and into the light.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Katerina Canyon is a 2020 and 2019 Pushcart Prize Nominee. Her stories have been published in New York Times and Huffington Post. From 2000 to 2003, she served as the Poet Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga. During that time, she started a poetry festival and ran several poetry readings.

She was featured in the Los Angeles Times and was awarded the Montesi Award from Saint Louis University in 2011, 2012, and 2013. She has published multiple chapbooks and an album.

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