My rating: 4 of 5 stars
To put my thoughts upon my first read of Karen Holmberg’s work in “Axis Mundi” – I’m in awe. She has such a powerful way with words and imagery, toggling between the spheres of life and death in each of the poems she portrays in this collection. She blends many thematics through the narratives, from human experiences, to nature, to subtle horrors and motions observed. I personally found resonance in some of the human narratives, such as “The Keeper” where the speaker’s nephew catches a fish and intends to throw it back, but it dies and then the speaker and her family examine the parts of it with such an eye that it leaves an indelible impression. My favorite came with “Child Acrobat” where a young boy is held aloft by his father and is depicted in such a high that you ride the measure alongside him. I loved the last line of the poem where it has a glimmer of weightlessness, of hope, in that it says “That Icarus, so long as he was falling, never fell. “Obisecence” was beautifully written, but as I read along I couldn’t help but feel horrified at the revelation within the context of the poem. Even the last line haunted me, with the speaker’s recalling of the phrase “I’ll teach you to love the men who frighten you.”
“Ward” the poem that opens “Axis Mundi” sets a powerful tone for the rest of the work in its evoking of a mother’s loss of her child; the author notes it was inspired by a true event occurring during 2004’s Indian Ocean Tsunami. There’s a running theme of motherhood (and even parenthood) in several poems in the collection. The poem for which this collection is named, “Axis Mundi” – ties together many of the running themes of the narrative in a beautiful way – in that it combines nature, gender, life and loss in a resonant way. The aforementioned poems are just a few of my favorites, but the overarching collection is one that inspires me to read more of Holmsberg’s work in the future. I would certainly recommend it.
Overall score: 4/5
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher BkMk Press.