Reviewed by Kristine Eckart
A reverie of memory and the existential wonderings on life and loss that make us human
In How To Monetize Despair, Lisa Motollo captures the intricate and sometimes random thoughts and feelings that arise when dealing with life’s most difficult chapters: trauma, grief, loss, and the mundane. Motollo’s speaker reflects on a mother’s death and a relationship with a father, associated with the small details that stick in one’s mind after a traumatic incident.
This collection is separated into three parts. “Part I: How to Be a Flock of Burning Canaries” begins with “How to Write About Trauma,” a poem recalling the car crash that killed the speaker’s mother. Its lines follow the exhaustion of grief, memories of a mother slicing mangos and drinking black coffee, and the immediate actions and tasks accompanying death.
“I have found that fatigue is the light missing from a broken bulb, and it’s too dangerous to pick up glass.”
The next part, titled “How to Remove the Kettle from the Flame Right Before its Hideous Whistle,” describes the awkward feeling of reentering society after a loss and the observations that come with comparing our world with the shock of death.
“Part III, How Not to Succumb to Mediocrity” compares the wonders of nature with our expectations and longing for an extraordinary life that erases the thoughts of the mundane.
This collection beautifully balances the vulnerabilities and agonies of grief with the dark humor and odd realizations that come with experiencing trauma. But it also muses on the anxieties a person can feel attending a party or during everyday activities like making a sandwich.
“We’d almost be having fun, if it weren’t for the incomprehensible stillness of our chests, our hearts drained like frightened squid.”
Life is full of many experiences that we either don’t want to discuss or even know how to discuss, but How To Monetize Despair is a beautiful example of how to start and navigate those conversations. As “The Loneliest Blue is the Reflection of the Sky” relates, sometimes the best way to talk about difficult things is just to say whatever comes to mind or whatever feels right at the time.
“I want to tell him I once thought I’d catch bubbles of silence in my mouth until life ended. That I was once washed with grief until I was clean as used soap.”
For anyone experiencing grief, trauma, or the everyday difficulties of life, this collection of poetry is a wonderful companion. As poignantly as it describes the effects of losing a loved one, the most powerful aspect of How To Monetize Despair is its message that no matter what you’re going through, you are not alone. And I’m glad that message exists here. Thanks to Motollo, from now on, I’ll see it in the vibrating wings of hummingbirds.
“This is my life now, missing one beautiful thing
because I’m transfixed by another”
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