David Gilbert’s intriguing poetry collection Not All Scars Are Wounded can be read as a single, book-length poem or as a series of untitled, associatively linked, free-verse poems that meditate on complex matters of identity, personal freedom, human relationships, and the scars that broken relationships leave behind.
The book’s title doesn’t do justice to its contents. (Perhaps the author means to say that “Not All Scars are Wounds” or “Not All Scarred [People] are Wounded”?) A clearer title, along with a table of contents page, section breaks, and subtitles akin to movements in a symphony or acts in a play, would help ground the reader’s experience and organize the author’s reflections in a more deliberate way.
Nonetheless, the collection is replete with promising moments as it examines the mutual wounds we inflict on each other as we fiercely struggle to love, the searing doubts we feel when finding our place in the larger world—and more. For example, he writes: “a fairy tale I made of myself”; “these stars look like landmines”; “don’t make nooses of halos”; “sometimes I do feel like a bruise/ not wanting to be touched”; “when my blood spilled/ you no longer saw me as paint/ to make beautiful art/ but a stain/ on the floor”; “so many stars burn/ but the darkness never fades/ only becomes more seen.” Carefully chosen, concrete nouns make the larger ideas accessible and memorable.
Often, though, the author falls back into language dominated by abstractions, and the result is less powerful: “You suffer from heroism/ thinking you’re so much bigger/ than what you are/ while making me feel even smaller/ than what I think.” If the sentiments expressed here were attached to the type of imagery mentioned above, they would resonate more deeply.
While the poetry in this collection is uneven overall, Gilbert shows great potential to create meaningful, important work. Readers will find much to appreciate in these pages.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.