Poet Leatha Kendrick is the author of two chapbooks, Science in Your Own Back Yard (see annotation) and Heart Cake. In this full-length collection she continues to examine themes explored in her first titles: love and loss; the fleeting of time; and her personal experience of breast cancer. Second Opinion is divided into three sections: the first two sections have 14 poems each, the final section has 13, perhaps to indicate that for this passionate and articulate poet the the final poem is yet to be written. The first poem in the collection, "A lesson in Love Unleashed," sets the theme for the poems that follow: "yes, I think, even in their distorted flesh, / I still desire what's gone. What I'm leaving" (p. 3). In the first and third sections, the poet writes of marital and familial trials and triumphs, both past and present, and in the second section--for me the most vivid in the collection--she writes about breast cancer and how this experience weaves in and out of her other loves and losses. This weaving is given both visual and emotional expression in the poem "Tonight Weaving" (p. 28)

Throughout the book, Kendrick's poems take varying forms and tones, and yet there is always the assurance of a constant voice--personal, passionate and often humorous. In the second section, the poems become more visually complex and fractured, poetic representation of the "distortion" of the flesh as the narrator considers the diagnosis and treatment of her breast cancer. In this section's opening poem, "The Calculus of a Cracked Cup," the poet writes, "Our position is never certain, only our / velocity" (p. 27), adding the concern of the swift passing of time to the collection's overall theme. In "Second Opinion," the title poem, she notes, "I want to believe in sudden remission, / in some way to avert what we are certainly / headed for" (p. 34). But while time rushes on, the reality of cancer, the loss of a breast becomes a "stopped surface" under which a "lost life" wants "its old course, not subject to IVs or a knife" (p. 35).

It is life--difficult and sweet--that is ultimately celebrated in these poems and that overcomes the losses. The most wry poems are found in the breast cancer section: "Christmas, Adolescence, Yin and Yang" (p. 32) is a sort of ode to "Skeeter and Bite," so named by a first love; now "they'll lift / one out, the eye sewn shut by mastectomy." "Costume. Fakery. The Sell." is a tough, nervy poem that has the narrator claiming acceptance for who she is, post surgery: "Alive! Tender, I'm not hiding" (p. 39). Throughout the book there is a subtle triple play on the word "tender": woman as caregiver; woman as collateral in a society that values cleavage; and woman as injured, post op, and physically vulnerable.

In the collection's final poem, "What You Leave Me," the theme of love and loss balanced against time comes to some resolution as the narrator and her partner join in a "sweet tangle": "the blossoming / hide, this bounded / time against brevity" (p. 64).


This collection, in particular the interplay of family love and loss against the cancer poems in the second section, will be of interest to caregivers, patients, family and writers. While the themes in this book are serious and the poems personal, there is no bogging down in grief or pure confessionalism. The poems transcend the narrator's experience to reach a universal audience. The poet seems to have great interest in language as a vehicle both of music and meaning. Read carefully, the poems reveal words with multiple interpretations, a diversity enhanced by the poet's choice of line break and line placement. Read first one way, a line may then be read another way, turning the poem's obvious meaning upside down--as the diagnosis of cancer might start both patient and family spinning.


David Robert Books

Place Published

Cincinnati, OH



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