Book Review: THERE SHOULD BE FLOWERS by J. Jennifer Espinoza

There Should be Flowers
by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza
Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2016
$15.95

Reviewed by Kelly Tiernan

Joshua Jennifer Espinoza’s There Should Be Flowers is an unyielding call for compassion in a world that continuously tries to suppress the voices of marginalized groups. The collection outlines her journey from a young boy whose silence is the only protection to a woman who refuses to let the injustices and hardships faced by the trans community go unspoken. The journey is filled with pain, anger, and utter determination. Life and death, art and politics, identity and community are all perfectly wound into the fabric of this unforgettable narrative.

Life and death take a central position in the collection. The need for survival but also the lack of interest in what the physical world has to offer are at the forefront of the conflict in this narrative. In “My Body a Sieve” she writes, “After long enough it doesn’t feel like anything. / After long enough I forget. / Nothing can be retained if I am to survive.” Survival lies somewhere between life and death. In her version of survival, she does not feel she has the ability to enjoy life nor is she allowed the release of death. The speaker craves an escape from the uncertainty of life but understands the necessity to keep working for the rights of trans people and offering a voice to their experience. The poem “I Imagine All My Cis Friends Laughing at Tranny Jokes” exemplifies the connection of the political to the personal. She says, “I read another comments section of an article / about trans women and I want to die. To not exist. To let / them win. I don’t let them win.”

In the poem “What I am Given,” Espinoza writes, “I’ve never kept a diary / Because I want to forget everything” but it is clear that this book and these poems are a diary, open to anyone willing enough to listen. In an interview, Espinoza says that “I think I was writing this particular book on some subconscious level long before I realized what I was doing.” The fact that the book was not crafted to fit a certain aesthetic makes the collection feel honest without any underlying pretension. The language is accessible and allows for any reader to connect with the work. Regardless of race, sexuality, or gender identity, this is a rallying cry for women to stick together against the society that persistently pits us against each other and against ourselves. She enlightens her audience and creates an open dialogue between poet and reader.

Espinoza reminds us as we get lost in her most intense poems that “there is no such thing as apolitical art.” It is evident that emotion and creativity are not the only contributions to the poems, but rather this is a book is inspired by the ugliest realities in life that we push into the furthest corners of our mind. These stories are a much-needed reminder of our own faults. In my reading, the most striking lines appeared in “Poem (Let Us Live).” She begs the question, “How long can I keep tricking you / into thinking what I’m doing / is poetry / and not me begging you / to let us live?” The shift in tone is unmistakable as Espinoza steps outside of her narrative to address her readers and tell them that this is not just poetry, this is survival. Moments like these are strewn throughout providing obscene clarity in the absurdity of everyday life. Her unforgiving honesty calls out her readers for participating in the choreographed dance that defines reading and responding to trans literature. Espinoza’s narrative screams for her readers to do more for the marginalized and the struggling. Be the change. Let their voices be heard.


 

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