This review is taken from Stand 240, 21(4) December 2023 - February 2024.

Mary Gilliland Ember Days (Codhill Press, 2024)

The opening poem of Mary Gilliland’s Ember Days dwells on the Tibetan practice of Chöd. At the outer limits of being, the subject imagines their own end as a tantalising feast, a body emptied so that it might fill and be filled. Embracing this exercise in excessive restraint, Gilliland doesn’t hold back:
Time’s come to set my mind
to ribbon flesh, chop small, pile it in a dish
made from the cranial bones.
Poetry, after all, offers a similarly luscious sacrifice, often taking the poet with it. The word ribbon appears three times in the collection, first as the body’s undoing, then as the tatters of time, ‘the shadows have stretched  your plans to ribbons’, and again when ‘[s]omewhere ribbons burst the wrappings of their presents’. In this final instance, ribbons squeeze presence into absence until it’s so full, the gifts can no longer be contained; our superfluous folds start to unravel. Gilliland has long been familiar with poetry’s paradox as a hard-earned gift. She trained under Gary Snyder, who introduced her to Buddhism and carpentry. In his footprints, she sings the natural world through her images, imagining ‘[i]f the source were a lily’ and our origin ‘a race of scent’. Yet in these lines, her other subject rears its problematic head. How to sing an America where a violent fallacy of emptiness has over-spilled its brim?

Ember Days is many things, but the most obvious is a vision of environmental and genealogical apocalypse. It’s split into three sections, ...
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