About A Sweeter Water
In A Sweeter Water, Sara Henning’s debut collection, lyric surface collides with both dreamscape and haunted reality in a metanarrative of longing. Within a re-invented diction of elegy, loss is its own gripping and hazardous splendor: dahlia as talisman for new awakening, plush anchor to reclamation, water as cleansing taboo. Reminders that beauty is only an abbreviation for what is most brutal and tender.
An always-already absent father lost to suicide. A mother’s fragile mask shattered by betrayal. A daughter seeking a name and a face. In Sara Henning’s debut collection, these poems fiercely sing back love in all of its various incarnations from deep within the red clay chambers of a familial ground zero—even as love reveals itself to be sweet mirage, brutal illusion, or a cruel evanescence that must be relinquished into elegy. In piercingly gorgeous lyrics that stun us with both ruthlessness and beauty, Henning’s poems painstakingly climb their way up from the site of unspeakable loss—haunted by the footsteps of ghosts, and relentlessly interrogating the ontological complexities of naming, belonging, embodiment, and spirit. With clarity and compassion, these poems turn back and look directly into what hurts, singing us all into the forgiveness of a sweeter water.
—Lee Ann Roripaugh, Author of On the Cusp of a Dangerous Year
In these poems, the familiar haunts, embodies strangeness, shimmers with the uncanny. The most tender touch is dangerous. To light the night, one sets a wasps’ nest ablaze. Here, anger transmutes to beauty. Here, the beautiful enthralls, lures, is a trap. The Italian painter, Giorgio Morandi, says, “I believe that nothing can be more abstract, more unreal, than what we actually see.” The poems in Sara Henning’s powerful debut collection confirm Morandi’s insight.
—Eric Pankey, author of The Pear As One Example
Revolving around the subject of a father who has committed suicide, these are poems of memory and loss, poems which show us how a body “makes a story for the unmentionables of the past,” poems which shine a light on our desperate search for love, our desperate “need to touch something” and how because of that need we keep touching the “holes in our childhood/ that never stopped burning,” and finally, the poems in A Sweeter Water teach us how we must name things which are lost in order to fill the holes sorrow has dug through our lives.
—Judy Jordan, author of Carolina Ghost Woods
Henning rides the ridge between escape-from and longing-after, marrying an overflowing brain with an animal whimper. All of this makes her a new artist of that very old subject: Love. What is A Sweeter Water but a particularly fresh, nuanced, and troubled love song? The honesty, novelty, and grace which Henning brings to this task makes her a poet who deserves to be read and reread.
—Kate Savage, Sugar House Review
Henning uses reason to explore something awful until it becomes awesome. This poet didn't skimp; she stares the down the aperture of what she knows and sings.
— Nicole Tong, Stirring
Sara Henning's A Sweeter Water is a ciphering of grieving. The book's opening poem is an introduction to loss and it foreshadows the suicide of the speaker's father. But like the many dahlias that pervade these poems, loss is a multi-faceted, motivating current. A Sweeter Water ruminates on identity and healing through distance, and Henning's mix of formal, informal, and prose poems creates a remarkable map of one woman's experiences.
—Lauren Gordon, the Collagist
Through intimate relationships with nature, animals, and the body, readers witness and recognize an important exploration and elaboration of extremely intense sides of life. A Sweeter Water is a welcome, albeit complex, introduction to Henning’s work.
—Sally Deskins, Weave Magazine