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Leah Horlick’s first collection, Riot Lung (Thistledown Press), offers a journey of seasons and subtle sexual explorations. Throughout this enlightening collection, Horlick travels from a St-Louis drive-in to the subways of New York City to a hotel in her hometown, Saskatoon. No matter what city Horlick is writing about, she has the power to transport readers from place to place, setting up this kind of space-time narrative in the very opening poem, “I Can Tell You This Much about the Light.” And in “Sugar,” we see this shifting place as a more fluid transition between exterior and interior worlds—Horlick takes a simple baking lesson and turns it into a sweet love, ending the poem with, “I’ve got a belly full of sugar powder/ and your mouth on mine leaves a spark.” Though she displays a sense of innocence in earlier poems of the collection, “saskatchewan sex ed” takes a slight turn away from this, resonating a more serious yet naïve tone of what is or isn’t sex. Here, the speaker raises questions and answers about intimacy based on what she has learned through eavesdropping or actual advice. Furthermore, Horlick doesn’t shy away from the difficulty of having this kind of conversation. Instead, she handles it head-on, delving into the kind of journey young adults will take in order to find themselves through sex.
Horlick takes this same stamina throughout her collection, addressing topics such as New York City protests in the title poem, “Riot Lung,” male chauvinism in “Meat Market,” and mourning in “Yartzeit,” a longer poem dedicated to a friend who passed away. She safely straddles between a love for women and memories of her own youth. This fresh collection offers a strong imagery of the body (both adolescent and adult), food, a vast locale, and colors. The thickness of her Canadian roots is perfectly sprinkled throughout several poems, leaving hints of culture and a strong female community. The best way to describe this collection is a beautiful unraveling of a coming out story that is interwoven between subtle memories of a coming of age story. Horlick’s slow release of sexuality and sensuality is present throughout each poem. This collection goes beyond a strong feminist voice—it’s a love story, not just a love between people but also a love of youth. Horlick’s strengths lie in the familiarity she has with locations and the adventures inherent in the human experience. As the poet revisits her own youth throughout the collection, she urges readers to journey with her, to rekindle their own youths as well. Horlick can be trusted as the driver and poet in the sense of exploration and discovery of oneself, which can be examplified in “No More.” In this poem, she takes us back to a period of her adolescence where she and a friend embark on a quest for self-discovery that parental figures mistake for an intolerable rebellion. In the end, Horlick’s first collection leaves her reader in anticipation for future projects, if not for the delightful sensory details, then to find out what happens to this young girl who has just come out and has the whole world to conquer.
By Leah Horlick
Paperback, 9781927068083, 64 pp.