We Are Changed to Deer at the Broken Place
Author: Kelly Weber
Publisher: Tupelo Press (2022)
This collection considers what it means to be a queer nonbinary daughter in search of mother and myth as refuges. Inhabiting and breaking inherited forms like the sonnet, the speaker rewrites mythology to find new possibilities of queer transformation within inherited traditions—in which bodies not only change to trees and deer to escape the cishet male gaze, but also break the gaze itself. Intimate lyrics chart the interior landscape of the speaker’s asexuality and aromanticism and explore the queered nuances of body and of platonic friendships. In the process, the book explores the mother wound of how these myths are inherited and what it means to create a new story, a new vocabulary, a new kind of breaking.
One could certainly say that Kelly Weber’s debut collection, We Are Changed to Deer at the Broken Place, depicts a non-binary experience that does not receive nearly enough representation in the literary landscape. While such an assertion would be factual, this kind of reading would underestimate Weber’s poetic gifts and the full range of the philosophical implications for her work. Weber writes, “What pulls a woman like me / out here alone, they want to know?” As she teases out possible answers to this question, Weber reveals—with remarkable lyricism and grace—the danger, richness, and multiplicity housed within solitary experience and within the individual subject. Adriana Cavererro, the famed scholar of vocal expression, once noted that thought itself is a collective endeavor, made possible by a shared cultural imagination. Weber reveals self as world, self as community in poems that situate an inherited tradition in conversation with postmodern innovation and undertheorized, urgently important concepts of identity. This is an unforgettable first book.
“The irony of Kelly Weber’s brilliant first book of poetry is how sexy each sentence feels pressed to tongue. This is a book obsessed with sound, with the haunting creak of animals breaking through human bodies, canter and flight. Sex is everywhere in this book, and romance, too. And yet the lived experience Weber captures is Aroace Girl, aromantic and asexual, attached to the natural world but refusing expected couplings. She slithers, untethered; she claws, shoots, bleeds in a landscape described with such heartbreakingly beautiful precision that we’re forced to question what sex is, anyway. What is a body without another body pressed against it, inside it, stealing its dreams? Who is this Aroace Girl who stands so confidently in the sights of the hunter, knowing she doesn’t need anything in her mouth but words, anything between her legs but an arrow she shoots from her thighs? She’s magic. This book is stunning, like nothing else, and so sure of its experience that it won’t be bullied or twisted into submitting to norms: of hetero, of couple, of labor. Every poem feels original, unsettling, starkly refusing to bend to the cishet world’s will. I listened to the body in wonder. I let words escape me again and again.”
“The staggering beauty of these poems lies in their ability to re-envision what the body, & a life, might be capable of. Weber deftly transforms experience into landscapes that the speaker can daughter, even desperately, as sky or a deer or struck iron, to be visible. The poems give shape and form to the concerns of asexuality and aromanticism, ‘concluding asexuality is not a disorder / but a distinct orientation,’ as the speaker asks in different ways over the course of the collection, ‘how can I want / my skeleton to hold you / with softness I don’t have.’ The movement from ‘the entrance of the body’ to ‘beautiful’ might be perilous, yet it proves worthwhile, as is entering this stunning book, ‘headwatered in these bodies of ours,’ where to enter means to allow language to translate dying into living into ‘a river too full to contain all this sky.’”