Every Room in the Body
Moon City Press, September 2017
Winner of the 2016 Moon City Poetry Award
Entering Kerri French’s masterful debut collection, Every Room in the Body, is like walking through a door into a new world, one in which we find ourselves following “a map to every room/ in the body,” which we discover is a world onto itself. It’s not just that these poems talk to the interiority of our lives that I find so astounding, it’s that I believe these poems are the map, which surprises me with every line, navigating us through the most challenging terrains of our lives. As a reader, this is the collection I’ve been waiting for, and “the waiting was like a dance/ inside me.” The dance on these pages, though, is one between the wisdom of an old soul and the nimbleness of a dancer in her prime.
-A. Van Jordan
“You’re told your baby will be/ born but maybe not alive.” These lines drill to the marrow of Kerri French’s Every Room in the Body, which narrates, in gorgeous lyrics, a particularly high-risk pregnancy. Here the body is both home and captor. There’s a terrific strangeness in the language, yet the movement of each poem is so deft, so controlled. Every Room in the Body is a visionary, haunting book.
Nathaniel Hawthorne describes happiness as living throughout one’s whole range of one’s faculties and sensibilities. By this description, Kerri French’s wonderful debut collection, Every Room in the Body, is a happy book. Even though its subject is a heart-wrenching illness during pregnancy, and every line of every poem is haunted by the unpredictable contingencies of mortal bodies that need to give and receive love, this is a happy book because the poems live so fully in the presence of what menaces our bonds and affections. These poems range over an impressive variety of styles, from the plainspoken to the surreal, the everyday to the dreamlike, in their project of giving the fullest possible response to the most difficult and fearful things.
Kerri French’s Every Room in the Body is an eloquent story of systems, a blueprint of two lives perilously carried to term. As rooms in this house take shape, the body is rearranged impossibly. It becomes a “captor” “refusing to let” mother and daughter “go.” Inside these fluid poems—part fantasy, part allegory, part cautionary tale—French relates the experience of this life to “a gunshot fired/ across a clear field.” As with Dickinson’s “Loaded Gun,” an eerie peace finally prevails. In the cool afterbirth of French’s words, readers will find themselves dazed under the transformative power of this new origin story.
In Kerri French’s Every Room in the Body, we learn early of the speaker’s high-risk pregnancy, of the baby who “will be/born but maybe not alive” and, by “34 Weeks,” understand how:
The waiting was like a dance
inside me, a gunshot fired
across a clear field
Each line in this fine book is a depth change packed full of images that are at once gorgeous and devastating. Each poem ratchets the tension higher. We tiptoe through this minefield of “will be/born but maybe not” with held breath and hope growing in our guts for what surely “will be.”
Read sample poems online:
“To Bring Milk Anyway,” BOAAT
“The Doctor Asks Me When the Pain Began,” Nashville Review
“The Funeral Year,” The Journal
“Cherry Hill,” Painted Bride Quarterly
“27 Weeks,” All We Can Hold
Three Poems: “Perigee,” “Years From Now, I Remember Our Vacation,” and “37 Weeks,” Houseguest
“Blue Feathers,” Tinderbox Poetry Journal