Book Review Project – Misery Islands

The Rollercoaster of Your Senses

January O’Neil came to the University of Maine at Farmington earlier this semester, and I went primarily because attendance as mandatory for two of my classes. January had a charisma about her that immediately grabbed my attention, and I admired how she talked about her imperfections. Before she started reading, January blatantly states that she is not perfect, and she has days where the last thing she wants to do is write, be a Mom, or even get out of bed. She admitted to her depression following her divorce, which is something I found relatable. Her poetry book, Misery Islands, was the book she primarily read from, and I instantaneously knew I had to buy the book, and I’m glad I did. The theme of this book, I’d have to say, is a mix between pain and growth – and joy and wanting to stay in one place forever. I like the combination because while one piece makes you want to stay in the place O’Neil is in, and enjoy the moments that are happening, the next piece can make you want to forget everything you’ve just read. The book is split into chapters that reveal an idea of what the pieces will be about, and I found myself always coming back to the names of the chapters when I read the pieces. The names of the chapters were: 1) The Gospel of Low Art, 2) In the Company of Women, 3) Misery, and 4) Tether. Usually the use of chapters is to indicate what the poems will be about, and while that may be the case, I still find the pieces very scattered between ups and downs, like a roller-coaster. It’s not all happy pieces and then all sad pieces: it’s realistic with sad and happy pieces mixed together as if they’ve been thrown in a blender. One minute you’re reading You Get Up and the next you’re reading Cunt. It’s like life, constantly changing your outlook.

You Are Not Your Salary (pg. 8) is a piece that caught my eye, and I’ve found that I’ve read the piece almost every day, or I’m saying it in my head. It’s a piece that stays in your head and changes meaning every time you read it. It lists important things, but states “Nevertheless, you are not your salary- how could you be?”, which is powerful, especially after making the subject seem like they are everything. I interpreted it, saying that someone can be everything, they can be everywhere, but they’re not the only thing out there for someone. I connected this piece to my Mom in a really strange way. She’s the person who gave birth to me, she’s the one who raised me (kinda), she’s my Mom… but she’s not the type of person I need in my life.

After Making Love, I Leave to Write a Poem (pg. 29) is one of the most heart-wrenching, tragically beautiful poems ever. I can feel the climax, the let down, and the aftermath. I hate how much I feel the words injecting themselves into my veins. The words are more than words in this piece, they’re an action. I can feel the movement in my body, and it truly evokes feelings of love, lust, and heartbreak in the end.

She plays with words in her piece, January is a Month You Would Consider Leaving (pg. 37) where she compares herself to the bitter coldness of the January month. I feel the depression in this piece, and makes me long for Spring. The final stanza of the piece is: “How could anyone blame you/ for wanting to escape/ the coldest month of the year?” and this really shows the depression that January feels, using her play on words to state that she doesn’t blame people for leaving her. This is a really relatable feeling – I just wish I had a month as a name so I could write a clever poem like this one.

I love this book, and I love rereading it when I want to feel a beautiful moment wrap itself around me, or when I want to drown in sadness. I find that when I’m sad, I pick this book up. When I’m happy, I pick up this book. It’s become my go-to, and it’s always in my purse. Every time I read it, I find something new about it – as if new pieces are being added in every day. There’s a raw truth to every piece in this book, that I find beautiful. She plays with words, making you think of things in ways that you never would have thought of alone. She makes things that most people would overlook seem like a big deal, making you question what’s really important. When I heard her read, I heard her voice crack at the hard part, and that’s not something I can forget, and I hear the cracks in my voice when I read them in my head. This book is perfect for people who love poetry that tugs at the heartstrings, and makes your attitude constantly change. There’s a lot of pieces about pain, coping, and depression, so this book definitely isn’t for people who want everything to be happy all the time. To me, this book is about growing and acceptance of events that make you want to curl into a ball and die, so maybe everyone should read it, maybe it will make them grow, too.


Misery Islands

January O’Neil

78 pages. Published by Cavankerry (November 4, 2014)

$17.00 USD



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