Forgiveness by Chelsea Bunn -Reviewed

Reviewed ByEmma Lee

Forgiveness by Chelsea Bunn

ISBN 9781635349030

Forgiveness by Chelsea Bunn
Available from the publisher
Finishing Line Press
$14.99

In Forgiveness by Chelsea Bun, forgiveness is the conscious decision to release feelings of resentment or guilt towards oneself; an act of survival in a world where every day pressures seem impossible to overcome and where victim-blaming is rife. It’s also the act of freeing an individual to grow. From the title poem, which is near the middle of the collection, the narrator visits her therapist,

“I see each week despite my fear of being seen.

Have you thought over,

she asks, what we talked about last time? She’s trying

to get me to forgive

myself. She wants to free me

of the song

I play over and over

in my mind, which governs

every part of me: nerves,”

The worry about being witnessed suggests seeing a therapist is seen as a weakness or something that might be used to shame the narrator. The repeated song is the rumination of issues which also trigger shame and silence: until the narrator frees herself to talk about them, she’s stuck. To get to her therapist, she passes men working in the flowerbeds and ends the poem with walking past them again,

“ and those men, I suppose, are finishing

their work, satisfied by having given

life to that garden, and the garden, content

in being tended to, everything green

and free

to bloom” 

The narrator understands she has to let know but isn’t yet ready to. The lines move into the space on the page and aren’t confined to the left hand margin suggest a desire for freedom but their confinement to regular three line stanzas and regimented indents suggest restriction, a barrier to the desired freedom. This theme of freedom and restrictions occur throughout.  In “Litany” a girl/woman might have freedom to walk and travel but there are other restrictions, 

“hand of passing          man/Canal Street

snaking                                  up my skirt

open hand of young            boy/crowded

corner/Mexico            twenty-three/older

man dragging leathered       hands across

my lifeless form          high school boy’s

hands/my neck            I wouldn’t let him

read my diary                      city bus/man

across the aisle              busying his hand

in the unsound dark       his gaze a stain”

The poem’s presented in a box shape with a fissure in each line. A woman in a public space being groped, assaulted for refusing to let a boy/man have his way and witnessing masturbation are common experiences. But the poem’s focus is on how these actions restrict women, box them into familiar spaces and send the message that public spaces are not for them. Planning a journey involves the additional tasks of figuring out the safest route, keeping safe and not provoking others who do not restrict their behaviour or feel a sense of entitlement over women’s bodies.

This sense of entitlement is further explored in a long sequence, “These Stories Are True”, which comes with a note, “This poem is an erasure of the statements made by Senator Al Franken, Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Tambor, and Louis C.K. (respectively) after they were accused of sexual misconduct.” From “Part 5”, where assaulted women, 

“They tried,

I think,

to forgive,

which is nothing

to me,

a man given

to hurt.

And I can

hurt them all.”

The speaker is unrepentant. He acknowledges he has harmed his victims but shows no remorse, no understanding of the power imbalance which enables him to act as he does.

This isn’t just a #MeToo collection, however, there are poems about losing her parents, her father’s reaction to becoming a widower and the relationship with a sibling. “Forgiveness” explores the necessity of releasing guilt and its associated sense of worthlessness in order to thrive. The experimental forms used underline and reinforce the sense of each poem and are deployed effectively. They show that mental and physical health are intertwined and physical damage is reflected in the mind. Forgiveness by Chelsea Bunn takes a contemporary issue and expands it to a universal focus, asking questions of the reader.

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