Reviewed by South Broadway Press Editor, Brice Maiurro
Agnes Vojta’s full-length poetry collection, The Eden of Perhaps, finds itself welcomed into a lineage of poets existing in liminal spaces. In an early poem in the collection, What If, Vojta asks the reader “what if the answer is not here/there, either/or, but both, between, and?” In our society, plagued by othering, perfectionism, and divisiveness, Vojta’s poems continue to ask the right questions all throughout the collection.
I believe it is often the work of a poet to consider grey space. This may feel contrary to what someone thinks of when they think of a poet, self-assured and convicted, preaching their gospel or anti-sermon to an enraptured audience, but there is often more truth when a poet brings along a healthy sense of humility. Poets like John Brehm speak to and curate collections on impermanence. In a 2020 episode of the podcast Between the Covers, Pulitzer Prize recipient Natalie Diaz encourages the acknowledgement of not understanding, or even misunderstanding. Ocean Vuong, in his poem Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong shares with the reader “the most beautiful part of your body/ is where it is headed.” Many great poets have learned to walk the tight rope of transition, to balance on the line of maybe.
I was particularly stricken by Vojta’s poem, Atonement:
Sometimes I wish I belonged
to a religion that practices confession.
I can walk in the forest and confess to the trees,
kneel by the river and whisper to the water,
stand in the field and shout to the sky –
but who will pronounce me shriven?
I have to prescribe my own penance,
whip my body to exhaustion to drown out
the mind’s self-flagellation,
and wait for the unpromised peace.
Being raised Catholic, I am no stranger to this attitude of religious penance that Vojta brings forth in the four short stanzas of Atonement, but though she mentions at times she longs for this space of confession, she ultimately settles, or unsettles, in the uneasy space of waiting “for the unpromised peace.” Vojta’s style at times reminds me of the beloved American poet Mary Oliver. An iceberg—in the sense that often below the surface of the deceptively simple words is ten secret tons of depth. Vojta is something of an iceberg herself. In Atonement, she seems to remind us that religion may present us some feeling of closure, but where a truth lies is in understanding that no peace is promised. These are the words that could shake a world free of the imprisonment of ignorance and return us to a shared experience of unknowing.
The book is brimming with bop after bop. In Seeds of No Return, Vojta, in a kind of magic, bans “the word never” from her mind. In Accomplished Hamster, Vojta manages to turn the cute allegory of a hamster on its wheel into a dark social commentary on hopelessness. Vojta’s poems are no stranger to humor, but they wield it like a knife. In Greeting Cards They Don’t Make, Vojta stands on her soapbox to announce the world’s lack of a greeting card that appropriately states inside “I hope the bastard rots in jail.”
It seems to me that Vojta must live her life as a student to poetry, often passing through the world with dreamer’s eyes. Finding compassion in the dying words of the Mars rover, Vojta creates a beautiful eulogy for a robot in My Battery is Low and It’s Getting Dark. Vojta hoists a feminist fist of dissent that RBG would applaud throughout the collection, including a disruptive reworking of such classic, albeit dated, fairy tales as Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty.
What’s refreshing about Vojta’s Eden of Perhaps is that it is, in fact, a collection. The poems are in conversation with each other, coming together like a multitude of seeds in the juiciest most pungent pomegranate you’ve ever eaten, unapologetically dripping all over the blueprint of a broken society.
Having read Vojta’s poems, I find myself more willing to say “I don’t know” as I move through my daily life, and while this may sound like some kind of defeat to some, for me it’s a nice walk through the garden in an imperfect Eden that feels more real than anything that they are trying to sell us.
The Eden of Perhaps was published by Spartan Press and is available for purchase here.