Shipwrecks of Lake Michigan by Kristy Bowen, Review #19

-Reviewed by Claire Trévien-

kirsty logan

There should be a term for poetry publishers whose own poetry should be wider known. I might call it a Kristy Bowen based on this pamphlet alone.

Shipwrecks of Lake Michigan is a beautiful object for one (as are many Dancing Girl Press publications), full of Bowen’s artwork and held together by a satisfyingly sturdy navy cover with label. You feel like you’re holding some rare manual on the shipwrecks of Lake Michigan.


Manual is an apt description for the contents too: from the hand-made collages, to the instructions found in one of the two sequences of poems (called from The Care and Feeding of Mermaids):

At night, she’ll slip out to meet men in hotel bars downtown, sneak into the pool after hours, call you at 3am begging for a ride home. Do not acquiesce. Especially on nights when the fog settles low on the water. Especially when the stars above it line up like a million tiny fish

There is also the other alternating sequence, detailing in part an affair with a character called the physicist, which is as precise as a manual:

How x equals the past
and y, the width of his hand across my back. But z always

equals that which you are most ready and willing to give away.

Really though, relationships, in all their terrifying and messy guises are the heart of this pamphlet, and the ways in which Kristy details its rises and falls through the lens of Lake Michigan’s shipwrecks is utterly compelling. Her voice is relatable, charting the feeling of inevitability that comes from an ill-fitting relationship.

My unhappiness just happens, then keeps happening like a
thunderstorm or car accident or forgotten dentist appointment.
Admittedly, seascapes are always sexier than landscapes

Throughout the pamphlet, there is friction between the finite, the easily definable, and the less tangible, with the former becoming an oppressive presence over the whole: ‘The bones in my ears clicking / over like locks in the harbour.’ The result is a magical realist manual.

This December, I have given myself the task of reviewing one pamphlet a day to raise money for next year’s Saboteur Awards. You can help by donating, or sharing the link using the hashtag #pamphletparty. I have given myself the aim of writing at least 300 words for each, a lower word-count than the usual reviews on Sabotage, in the hopes of making it more manageable! Here’s a link to the previously published reviews in this project!