Win Harms: In Harms Way

Win-Harms cover page

Barncott Press has been coming out with some exciting poetry titles lately, and one bright new poet is American expat Win(ifred) Harms, an accomplished writer who, incidentally, will be playing the title role in the upcoming filmic production of Eddie Woods’ classic Mary.

In her debut publication, entitled (perhaps inevitably) In Harms Way, Harms achieves something extraordinary. She taps in to the deep personal and collective trauma of our age, and does so with an almost off-the-cuff feel devised by a skillful and often playful handling of language and metaphor.

The kind of poetry that Harms produces requires an entire book, and even though she has individual publishing credits in various journals and publications, this intimate collection reads as a cohesive unit with its own sense of immediacy and a fast paced rhythmic propulsion. The imagery is dense and triggering and the metaphor is gritty and contemporary. Particularly poignant are the poems that address anguish and loss within carefully wrought and, for the most part, tightly controlled expression.

In a sense, Harms’ collection reads like a masterful reworking of the heartfelt but rather badly written poetry of angsty teens. The book’s early poems, one entitled Heads counterpointed by the next poem, Tails immediately signal a sense of polarity. And the book’s poems do run the gamut of emotional expression. We encounter poems about sex, mental wards, dead daughters and husbands, suicide, illusion, kindness and despair.

Running through the dark strains of the collection is a survivor instinct and trickster spirit. The words on the page are sticky, sugary, sexy, and full of fluid(s), with gleefully rampant enjambment. There is an authenticity and tough vulnerability that comes across in this no-holds-barred ode to the messiness of life incarnate.

The motifs of trauma and despair hold in tension a deep love for and celebration of life. The speaker in the poem Fear, for instance tells readers she is: waiting, yet again, for a transfer / to a state mental institution / this time it was the / beauty of a spring day / the Croatian man bringing me chicken / and the sheer happiness / that made me unable to take it anymore.

Beneath the layers of many poems, Harms pays homage to literary forebears such as Virginia Woolf, the imagist H.D., and American beat poets. Sylvia Plath, in particular, looms large, especially in poems like Elektra Euphemisms with its faint echo of Plath’s Daddy and her controversial Nazi imagery.

And while In Harms Way frequently explores many of the same themes as Plath, the voice is entirely 21st century, caught inextricably in the mire of negotiating a sense of self in a post-feminist, post-MTV-generation, post-post modern world. Harms’ second collection of poetry is certainly highly anticipated.

(Originally published in The Holland Times 9 September 2013)

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