About View from True North
Poems by Sara Henning
Testifying to the impact of alcoholism, abuse, and sexual repression
In these edgy poems of witness, Sara Henning’s speaker serves as both conduit and curator of the destructive legacies of alcoholism and multigenerational closeting. Considering the impact of addiction and sexual repression in the family and on its individual members, Henning explores with deft compassion the psychological ramifications of traumas across multiple generations.
With the starling as an unspoken trope for victims who later perpetuate the cycle of abuse, suffering and shame became forces dangerous enough to down airliners. The strands Henning weaves—violent relationships, the destructive effects of long-term closeting, and the pall that shame casts over entire lives—are hauntingly epiphanic. And yet these feverish lyric poems find a sharp beauty in their grieving, where Rolling Stone covers and hidden erotic photographs turn into talismans of regret and empathy. After the revelation that her deceased grandfather was a closeted homosexual “who lived two lives,” Henning considers the lasting effects of shame in regard to the silence, oppression, and erasure of sexual identity, issues that are of contemporary concern to the LGBTQIA community. Even through “the dark / earth encircling us,” Henning’s speaker wonders if there isn’t some way out of a place “where my body / is just another smoke-stung / dirge of survival,” if, in the end, love won’t be victorious.
Part eyewitness testimony, part autoethnography, this book of memory and history, constantly seeking and yearning, is full of poems “too brutal and strange to suffer / [their] way anywhere but home.”
Sara Henning’s poems search through the past and present, never turning an eye from the pain of loss: a grandfather’s death and a father’s suicide. Both family portrait and mirror, each poem is rendered with lyrical precision and quiet reverie as they present a scarred life, the wounds healing but not yet closed. The speaker here claims to be the ‘heiress of disaster,’ and though much of her inheritance is loss, she shapes it, poem by poem, into strength.
— Dorianne Laux, Author of The Book of Men
The impeccable crafting, formal mastery, and literary intelligence of View from True North all function as a brave counterbalance to the harrowing material at its core. What shores up the valor of this book’s acute witnessing gaze is its language—lush, lustrous, hammered into archetype: ‘Jags of heat-whelmed ice too sultry / not to thieve through the specular reflection / spiral into a raid of light’—its language as quantum physics, zeroing in on tragedy at the atomic level, at the semiotic level, the tyrant’s ashes ‘a collage of signs enticing / the next great signifier.’ Henning’s ravishing music is in revolt against the trauma of the book’s narrative, just as her sonnet sequences provide the ballast of history, of virtuosity. Sara Henning, a ‘trickster,’ ‘an heiress of disaster,’ has composed a radical masterpiece.
— Diane Seuss, Author of Still Life with Two Peacocks and a Girl
Sara Henning writes in the proud tradition of such contemporary masters as James Wright, Lorine Niedecker, and Stanley Plumly. Like them, she understands that the task of relating family history is sometimes indistinguishable from lamentation. Also like them, she situates her poems in the hardscrabble precincts of the rural Midwest, locales upon which she bestows a troubled grace—thanks to her formal elegance, her startling metaphors, and her dexterous command of narrative. View from True North is a grave and bracing debut, a collection of unusual promise.
— David Wojahn, Author of For the Scribe