Nancy Lee’s first full-length poetry collection, What Hurts Going Down, paints a landscape of rape culture that is both matter-of-fact and horrifying. The poems reveal this world through an array of personal recollections, second-person invocations, and third-person narrations, varyingly detached and vivid. Rape culture, or the normalizing of sexual aggression and exploitation, is a subject of visceral, if mundane, recollection: a hookup on a basement bear-skin rug (“Girl with Bear”), an encounter in “a bar by an off-ramp” (“Ms. Clairvoyant”). But it is also a sedimentation of echoing encounters that effortlessly parallel coming of age: “my childhood bed, the guest room / bed, the bed in my college dorm / and the futon in my first apartment” (“Analysis”).
Calling something a “myth” or a “legend” is misleadingly aggrandizing; it elevates while also implying that the thing being elevated is something other than the truth. In my yt mama, Mercedes Eng emphasizes mythologization’s long history as a colonial tool, and turns its destabilizing logic onto her own personal origin story as the “non-yt” daughter of a “yt mama” born in Medicine Hat. She ravenously forages knowledge from family hearsay, childhood memories, Wikipedia, a colonial history of Medicine Hat written for Canada’s centennial, and observations of family members, friends, celebrities, and craft-brewery bros. The strongest sense of authority among all these knowledges comes from the unspoken memories of childhood: in poems such as “race according to my yt mama,” an adult Eng restores the child’s narrative by drawing attention to what her mother was not seeing in their offhand exchanges about race.