I Wore the Only Garden I've ever grown

The work of the poet is to bear witness and tell truths, to report and document the beautiful and the strange, the twisted and the sweet. Because this is the work, being a poet means coming to terms with the joys and burden of saying, “I am here. This is the story.” Sometimes that work comes at expense of comfort and sometimes it comes at the expense of the pained expectation to remain silent, to tow the line. In this raw, wondrous, and heartbreaking debut, Kathryn Leland’s body is given in full to the work, and that body is hammered into wood, into bedroom doors slammed shut, into dented car hoods, into a garden of bruised soil purpling to blooms of Aster and Dahlia. These are not flowers of melodrama. This garden is the reality of wreckage, the salvaged self of a girl becoming a woman. This is Leland learning if she can make a body for herself, “they can burn it, tear it, throw it away,” but through the work there comes the toughened spirit of a poet and the resolve to say, no matter what, “This happened.” — Bryan Borland & Seth Pennington 

Remarkable is the generosity of Kathryn Leland’s gaze, how it never settles with her own concerns but encompasses the entirety of a family knotted with loss and violence. Her poems strive to protect even when no protection was extended; they lend compassion to those times when there was little to be found. The result captures a difficult, unflinching truth while also striving toward a time when “we stop letting him be / the most important thing that happened to us.” This is a debut that survives on a belief in poetry—how it’s possible to write your way out, how writing down the impossible means that “if you make a body for yourself out of paper, they can burn it, tear it, throw it away, but you will always be able to make yourself a new one.” To read I Wore the Only Garden I’ve Ever Grown is to bear witness to a phoenix rising, but a phoenix that never once forgets how she was first burned to ash. Jessica Jacobs & Nickole Brown