The Best Literary Writing About Mothers and Motherhood

Devil’s Lake by Sarah M. Sala

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Review by Tasslyn Magnusson


It’s a bold and beautiful move to open your poetry collection with a poem about the big bang that lands the reader with the narrator in kindergarten at its close. But there is a gorgeous rhythm of the opening poem’s final line, “First I was a star, then a stain of water, then a kindergartner,” (3). That kind of telescoping is what seals the deal for me. I zoom to the intimate and personal because I’m following Sarah M. Sala’s confident use of language, image, and sound.

And we need to be at the intimate level of word and person because Sala’s poetry is here to shed light on the violence committed against women with stark clarity. Her language doesn’t make the horrendous beautiful – but like that first poem, zooms us into the truth of the experience through her carefully constructed poetic collection. Everything in this collection – punctuation, erasure subject, found poem, and white space – serves to focus us on Sala’s message. See this violence. Witness this harm. Experience this harm. Listen.

White space does so much important work throughout Devil’s Lake. “Nature Poem” opens with a photo of an evidence tag. Rebecca Wright and her girlfriend Claudia Brenner planned to hike the Appalachian Trail and were shot by a stranger. Rebecca was murdered. The stanzas that follow the picture reveal Sala’s story of the women’s experiences. Each short stanza alone centered on a page. The white space of the page frames the beauty of the language and the horror of the violence. Sala’s precise language and beautiful line breaks show us precisely what we need to see. “My bicep / exploded     then, / the dirt,” (35). That careful pause, the white space between “exploded” and “then” encapsulates the moment of disbelief and destruction in minute detail. We must sit with the experience. The white space holds us there. On the page. And it’s not just the violence of the murder, but the violence of the after that Sala demands we witness. “Rebecca, / your parents / cremated you / before I left / the hospital” (49).

The final poem of the collection, “Interior Vs. Exterior,” is like a poetic call out to the measured and deliberate nature of how form defines Sala’s work as much as her word choice. “At my worst, I control the boundaries of my form, / and yet, when divine, the self permeates the / physical world,” (74). Sala’s collection, Devils Lake, details the horrors of the violence experienced by women and women who love women. The poems expose the boundaries of that very real violence. But that’s not all we must do; Sala is clear on this. To be divine, we must connect to the experiences – go beyond the form. Explore the fragile construction of each poem and see how we are intimately connected and part of this experience. Sala’s poems, page by page, careful creation by careful creation, found poem to erasure, to line break, are the means through which we too must zoom to see the violence that we are all apart of to be whole.


Tasslyn Magnusson received her MFA in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults at Hamline University in Saint Paul, MN. Her poems have been published or are forthcoming in Broad River Review, Room Magazine, Mom Egg Review, The Raw Art Review: A Journal of Storm and Urge, and Red Weather Online. Her chapbook, “defining,” from dancing girl press was published in January 2019. She lives in Prescott, WI with her husband and two kids and two dogs.


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