Our Lady of the Ruins by Traci Brimhall

Reviewed by Taylor H (Library Staff)

Traci Brimhall is quickly becoming one of my favorite poets. When reading her work, I am always excited to see what each poem will show me. Our Lady of the Ruins is a unique collection that “tracks a group of women through their pilgrimage in a mid-apocalyptic world” (from the back cover). Brimhall creates her own mythology that deals with trauma, spirituality, and the death and destruction that wars and plagues leave in their wake.

One of my favorite poems in the collection was the long poem titled “Hysteria: A Requiem” (pp. 47-53). I am not someone who typically enjoys longer poems, but this one was stunning in both form and content. It is divided into multiple sections, each section telling a vivid and thought-provoking story. Each section also contains a second story told in the footnotes. I’ve never seen a poem quite like this before. And this wasn’t the only piece that stood out to me. Brimhall’s collection is filled with startling lines and images: “angels crawl the walls of the cathedral” (from “To Poison the Lion,” p. 44), “I…rowed/over the ocean’s deep meridian/and dreamt a deluge for thirty nights” (from “Dirge for the Idol, p. 63), and “creation is sacred violence” (from “The Orchard of Infinite Pears,” p. 82). These are only a few.

Without diving too deep into poetic analysis, I also want to make note of the striking similarities between Brimhall’s “The Colossus” (p. 31) and “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley (first published in 1818). Both poems appear to comment on the notion of a fallen empire, describing the remains of large statues found in a desert. One very intriguing difference between the two poems, however, is that the face of Shelley’s statue is described like this: “Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,/And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command” (lines 4-5). Brimhall’s statue, on the other hand, is distinctly described as being “facedown” (line 3) and there seems to be a fear of it: “What if we recognize the face? What if/the world doesn’t end here?” (lines 19-20). I really enjoyed how these poems could be analyzed in conversation with each other.

Overall, this collection is both haunting and inspiring. I’d recommend it to anyone who loves poetry or who loves apocalyptic narratives. I picked up a copy from the library, but I think I’m going to have to purchase my own!

Available through the Bridges Library System

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