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Big Eyed Afraid by Erica Dawson
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Big Eyed Afraid by Erica Dawson

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In Big-Eyed Afraid, a first book of genuine originality, Erica Dawson turns the mirror held up to nature on herself. Both humorous and heart-wrenching, Dawson balances formal adroitness with a 21st-century colloquial idiom modulating between demotic and mandarin registers, a voice all her own.

Employing numerous forms, including the rondeau, ballade, rhyme royal and her own adaptation of the In Memoriam stanza, Dawson elevates the self only to see it combust into pieces of broken character, an arch of introspection signalled by the book's opening and ending series of nickname poems, including "Nappyhead," "Mommy Dearest," and "DrugFace," where contradictions of personal, cultural, and intellectual identities are exposed.

In between, Dawson completes the case history, calling on everyone from Freud and Puccini to Rita Hayworth and James Brown while craftily moving between rhyme's mellifluous voice and that of a frighteningly self-effacing honesty: " high for your halo and penance / And a murder of crows and your birthday's sentence." Yet for every stanza spent in Dawson's mind, each page of Big-Eyed Afraid opens up to face and find shade from reality's "blue leaded sun burning its shine too strong."