Publisher: Topaz Winters
Release date: May 27th, 2019
Genres: Poetry, Mental Health, LGBTQ+
Goodreads rating: 5.00Goodreads summary:
Portrait of My Body as a Crime I’m Still Committing is an award-winning, omnivorous collection of poetry residing in the space between confessional & manifesto.
Portrait is interested in the immediacy of language; in girlhood as wolfhood; in the cartography of illness; in fractures through the dark; in bodies, human & water alike. Luminous, tender, & unflinching, Portrait cuts straight to the marrow. To all those whose bodies have been more bruise than human—who feel so loudly the sky turns black in fear—this book is for you.
I want to thank Topaz Winters, for writing a poetry collection as brilliant and wonderful as this one, and for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I’ve been a huge fan of Topaz Winters’ poetry for years now. I love the way her words reach me, resonate with me; no one else manages to evoke not one or two, but a whole flood of emotions in me, like Topaz does with her words. You can imagine how happy I was, how honoured, when she contacted me to read an ARC of her newest collection Portrait of My Body as a Crime I’m Still Committing — and isn’t that title alone brilliant and intriguing? Don’t you want to know what happens next?
Now, reviewing poetry collections has never really been easy for me, for reasons I’m not sure I can explain. Maybe is because I love poetry in a way that is very different to the way I love novels. Maybe it’s because poetry is so deeply personal or maybe it’s because I think everyone finds something different in poetry (and, to me, a lot of reading poetry is about finding yourself between the lines). Whatever the reason, I’m sure that my review won’t do this collection and Topaz’s words justice — so just let it be said here that this is a brilliant collection, filled with longing and love and pain and healing and, most of all, survival. I love this book endlessly.
“How in love we are with the things our minds / create to survive.”
What I think must be said about Portrait is that it is not a book you read and forget about. Topaz Winters strings words together like a melody, and, like a song, her words stay in the back of my mind, always there. It’s a thought both comforting and frightening, that words have the power to stay with you in such a permanent way. Either way, I think it says a lot about the kind of writer Topaz is; that is to say: a magnificent one.
What must also be said is that this is not an easy read. Portrait deals with a lot of difficult topics and it’s incredibly personal; many of the poems are about mental illness (panic attacks, eating disorder and anxiety are topics that are often talked about) and there are multiple mentions of suicide. So, be aware of that when going into this book. But then there are lines like this:
“& bless the day the meds finally / started working, but also, // bless every day before that. / Bless every poem // about healing. Bless / every false start // that made it possible for me / to write poems about healing.”
And I truly believe that Portrait is an incredibly important book and I admire Topaz infinitely for her bravery and strength; writing this collection can’t have been easy, but there’s so much to find between these pages and if any piece of writing has ever made me believe that there’s hope and that healing is a possibility, this is it.
Another theme that caught my attention again and again while reading Portrait was the theme of want. In But First, the Stomach, Topaz ended with this line and it has stuck with me since:
“In the beginning, there was want. / I can’t remember what came after that.”
I feel like this line somehow grasps the essence of this collection, or at least the essence of what I found in it: that there are so many things to want, to long for, to reach for but never quite reaching — until maybe, just maybe, against all odds, you reach them after all. This is a collection of poems that is intense in its desire and I loved every single word.
I’m certain that there is a poem for every single person in this collection: there are love poems, and so many amazing poems about girls loving girls (and can I just take this moment to say: read Pandora, it’s wonderful in every single way), there are poems about grief and about loss, about hurting and healing. There are poems that make you smile, and (possibly even more) poems that make you cry, but every single one is breathtaking and honest and glorious.
Overall, I can only say that this has been a stunning poetry collection — and after I finished reading Portrait of My Body as a Crime I’m Still Committing and wrote this review, I instantly pre-ordered my own copy (you can do the same here). Topaz Winters has been one of my favourite poets for a while now and, after reading this collection, I love her words more than ever before. If you’re a lover of poetry or if you always wanted to get into reading it, I recommend this collection with my whole heart and soul.
“This is what the wolves taught me: / the most beautiful word is girl. / The most beautiful part of her body / is what she did to survive.”