Haunting the Last House on Holland Island, Fallen into the Bay by Sarah Ann Winn

Review by Tammy Bendetti


(Porkbelly Press 2016)

In Sarah Ann Winn’s latest poetry microchapbook, you don’t leave home – home leaves you. Winn builds her ghost story around the real-life collapse of Holland Island, Maryland, into the Chesapeake. Her thrifty six poems behave like a house, a bounded space lavish with meaning. But here, home is no longer itself, and can anchor us no more.

The opening and closing poems are centos, or poems made from pieces of other things. They disorder the familiar, acting out the central idea of the book. In the topsy-turvy bedrooms and kitchens of Haunting, the living become the ghosts. Winn explores the space with playful intimacy. Her poems’ speakers complain about the Home Owners’ Association, grown even more absurdly irrelevant now that the house is underwater. They invite divers to look out the window to view the Titanic. They offer up a tacky ghost tour, complete with “convincing 3D.”

But a wistful earnestness surfaces, too, and the book is mostly successful at balancing whimsy and gravity. An urgency drives the stanzas. Something has been lost, and must be found. The “minutes swim like little blind fish in and out of windows,” and we get the sense that perhaps they will run out. “Memory’s not waterproof, not forever, not for long,” warns the second poem. Time, memory, and most of all, change, dominate the chapbook. What we have here is a memento mori. Winn conjures up phantoms to ask us, “How much of us is alive? How much is swimming? How much is only borne along?”

Haunting feels like a door to another dimension, but it’s really a new vantage point to see what we’ve always suspected: that we change beyond recognition, and time goes on. There are still places in the world we don’t belong, that don’t need us. It’s a bittersweet reassurance. “Windless, starless night,” the final cento concludes, “dawnlight to dawnlight, I look: it is still there.”

Tammy Bendetti writes, paints, and misses the ocean from Colorado, where she lives with her husband and two teeny daughters. She is remarkably loud for her small size, and can probably be bribed with coffee. You can find her recent work in or forthcoming from Bitopia, Sugared Water, and Alyss.

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