Book Review: What to Do With Baby Ashes

Once upon a time, several years ago, I got a comment on my blog from someone I didn’t recognize. Because I was so new to blogging, I immediately clicked follow – and that just-so-happened-to-click moment led to me following one of the most brilliant poets I think I’ve read. She’s more active on Twitter now, if you want to follow Marnie Heenan @MarnieWriting. You can also find her website https://www.marnieheenan.com/

She’s published several poems in many outlets, but I’d like to present to my little corner of the blogosphere a book of poetry that will send you on an emotional ride.

The Book

What To Do WIth Baby Ashes read 2021

What to Do With Baby Ashes
Author: Marnie Heenan
2020
Amazon Link

The subtitle for this book (which isn’t on the cover) is Poems From My Life Before, During, & After Pregnancy Loss.

=O

Before I get much further, yes – this book does get pretty intense. As someone who will probably never become pregnant, I didn’t think it would be hard. I was there for the nature poetry (and whoo boy, can Heenan pull out some beautiful naturalism), and I still got hardcore heart thumpies. If miscarriage/pregnancy loss is going to be too intense for you, you might want to consider how or when you read this.

Non-Spoiler Review

There are two ways to read this book, and I will admit I did both of them because I just felt like the book deserved it.

Also because the story linking the poems was intense enough that I didn’t stop.

Usually when I read a book of poetry, I read one poem a night just before going to bed and then put it down. I happened to read this one in a single sitting (easy to do – it’s short), and HOLY CRAP WHAT INTENSITY. If you read this in one go, it’s like “Oh, this is pretty neat”, then it goes bam-bam-bam with shooting your heart right out of your chest followed by trying to sew it back together with a rusty needle and floss.

I finished it and was like, “Wow, that sent me somewhere.”

After that, I read a poem at a time (or maybe two, something like that).

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

Like I do with compilation books, I’m going to talk about my favorite, a standout, and least favorite poem.

Favorite: Family Photo
This last poem in the book wraps everything you just read together. It draws the three sections – Before, During, and After – into a nice, tight bundle, and I love it. It was placed perfectly, and I think it did so much to the overall feel of the chapbook in addition to being intense, raw, and well-written on its own.

Standout: Drive Home
I thought about this one being my favorite, but it’s too perfect a fit for standout. It’s unforgettable. It’s such good stream of consciousness, and it has almost a Faulkner sort of feel. It’s short enough that the stream doesn’t become burdensome, and the emotional intensity of it might have been the climax for me.

Least Favorite: Subtropics
Honestly, this is kind of a bullshit section for me because all the poems were good. I chose this one because it was, once I flipped through it to write this review, the one I remembered the least of. It’s necessary to the story because it marks a shift in the author’s situation, but it’s a poem of nature that leads very quietly into the next scene. That’s all.

Next week:

I’m reading the first craft book I’ve ever read – Colleen Chesebro’s syllabic poetry book! Get hype!

5 Tips About Music In Your Writing

Music’s important to a lot of people. I know I have excellent taste in music:

Because music is so important to people, I’ve seen it discussed in literature quite a bit. Sometimes, it’s done well – and other times, it’s not.

Here’s what I’ve gleaned over my brief years in life.

5. Keep Poetry in Prose Short

Songs written out in a book appear as poetry, unless you’ve figured out a way to use magic and include actual noise in your pages. Though songs are usually longer than a few lines, you probably don’t want to include the whole thing in your book.

I would say that about 95% of the time, I skip poetry of any sort – including songs – when I’m reading a prose novel. The last 5% is either the REALLY impressive stuff (like the songs in The Lord of the Rings) or something on the order of 3-10 lines long. And I’m someone who reads poetry on my own!

People who don’t study poetry often don’t even like poetry. Poetry in English is strange because the forms are all sorts of weird. In East Asian poetry, the number of syllables and shape of the poem is important and gives it life. In the Romance languages, the words flow and rhyme easily. In English? Our bastard tongue makes either of those types of poetry difficult difficult lemon difficult.*

That means the quicker you get your poem out, the less likely you are to throw off a prose-liking audience. If you want my suggestion for how to include poetry (and thus song fragments) in a book, I would suggest reading Where the Crawdads Sing.

4. Keep the Lyrics Relevant

Poems and songs carry a lot of weight in real life, and it should be even moreso in a novel. When you take the time to include a piece of a song in your mostly prose story, that break in the narrative needs to pack as much punch as possible.

Luckily, poetry can shove a lot into a small space (which I still don’t understand how). While poetry rarely forwards the plot, you have an array of important things you can include to enmesh it more fully with your story. Here’s a brief, brief list of things you can include in your poetry to help glue it into your story more fully.

  • Characterization
  • Symbolism
  • Foreshadowing (SO common with poetry and songs in books – just read the Tolkien songs in LotR)
  • Background information (but be careful! it can bog down easily)

Once you get that done, it’s still important to carry through what you wrote. Make the foreshadowing come true, perhaps call back to the song without being explicit. People will carry the words of a poem on their hearts – let the words fall in when you crack their shells rather than shoving the poem in. Soft, yet forceful.

Like I’ve said before, do at least two things at once when you write. Don’t just put in a bit of poetry as a puzzle and expect it to be important. Make it be a part of your story and carry it.

3. Music Doesn’t Define a Character (and yet it does)

Does your character only listen to the darkest things like “Homicidal Retribution” by Dying Fetus**?

Sure, that defines the character… but it could easily define them in the wrong way. Hear me out.

When a character is very into a certain type of music, it doesn’t just define them: it puts them in part of a group. Music is rarely enjoyed by a single person, and the group of people then becomes important. Characters who are loners? Music still puts them in a group. It’ll give them a label.

For good or ill, yes, music and the groups that listen to them are usually defined in middle and high school (or whatever you foreigners call school for people between 12 and 18). The group you associated with in high school will forever have a certain place in your heart, and you’ll see the music you listened to differently from someone who hung out with a different group. Same thing for age – you’ll have different feelings about music from your time period in high school than other people will.

So when your character listens to “Second Death” by Abysmal Torment**, you may see them as a hero of edge, sass, and darkness. Other people will see them as losers. Other people will see them as scary. Clowns like me will be like “lol”.

Your character’s music may define them, but it doesn’t define them in the same way for every reader. It’s such a double edge sword that it must be considered very, very carefully.

2. Music Doesn’t Define Your Setting (and yet it does)

This is going to have a lot of similarities to the above, but it really has more to do with talk about technical things.

A relatively common trope I’ve seen is the use of songs to give a sense of place and, more importantly, time. Just name-drop the Beatles and put in a “Yellow Submarine,” and you’ve set your book in the 1960’s (or you’re trying to say your character listens to old music, but you can see #3 for that). The time period in which certain musical styles, songs, and artists were popular can easily be defined.

At the same time, it’s all just references. References are good for people who get them, but no one else.

Ready Player One is the grand poo-bah of all reference books. Including elements of music as well as everything else, the book makes extensive use of anything 80’s pop culture in attempt to build its world. From what I can gather, it works.

But only for people who already knew the information.

People who weren’t around during the 80’s (such as yours truly) and who haven’t studied up on it will get only a smattering of references. While dropping names of people and songs can help your intended audience feel in the moment, it can cause readers unfamiliar with it some stress. Any time something needs to be researched, it dampens the narrative.

My suggestion is to not reference music unless the information is almost universally known. The Beatles, for instance, are a household name and common knowledge. Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley also maintain a similarly important cultural niche (for now at least). Lyrics are almost impossible for people to catch, as well, so I wouldn’t rely on them as references at all.

In the end, know your audience and make your passage easy to read.

1. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON’T RELY ON A SONG’S WORDS

I said earlier to avoid lyrics for the purpose of setting. Now I’m going to tell you why you should just avoid putting in lyrics at all:

CHEESINESS.

Yes, that’s right. You can usually get away with referencing things or including small bits of a song, but here’s the thing: every time I’ve seen this done, whether in an indie book or a traditionally published book, it’s usually not… good.

Like with the danger for characters and for settings, music evokes different feelings for different people. Your feel-good music could scream “PSYCHO KILLER” to someone else. Trying to find depth in lyrics is hard (with the exception of American Pie, I guess).

Most people reach their peak “into music” phase as a teen. Many teens define themselves by what music they listen to, and defining a book by a song reminds me of that. It makes me, at least, feel like a book is a teenager. Regardless of the defining song, it seems…

angsty.

By a long shot, this article has been the one relying least on research and most on my opinion so far. Do you agree with what I’ve said? Have a bone with me to pick? Let me know in the comments!

*difficult difficult lemon difficult is supposed to be making fun of easy peasy lemon squeezy.

**I enjoy listening to the local college station at 5-7pm on Friday night. The DJ is this Aubrey Plaza sounding woman who explains why the maggots on such and such album cover thrills her, and it makes me laugh endlessly. I just have to put up with vomit sounds, oinking, and people singing about putting pig blood on their penises in order to listen to this fantastic, anonymous person.

Reading List – April 2021

We’re on to 2021’s second indie book month – and it’s going to be exciting as we delve through some books with female leads!

What to do with Baby Ashes – Marnie Heenan

I’ve followed Heenan online for quite a while. She used to be active in the WordPress scene, but now I keep up with her on Twitter and gaze every so often at her website. You all know I’m not a mom and don’t plan to be, but I’ve kept up with Heenan enough to know that she’s really, really good at poetry, and this book is her first chapbook. I think my heart’s ready to get ripped out. Stick around for the emotion bath.

Amazon Link

A Choice for Essence – Katelyn Uhrich

This summer, I read an anthology called From Ashes to Magic, and that contained one poem about the gods Life and Death that just blew me away. I chose to read Essence because it is told from the perspective of gods reminiscent of those in Greek myth, and I thought it could be as beautiful or interesting as the short I’d read this summer. However, I did note that it’s YA, so I’m not sure how that’s going to play out for me (just ok with YA).

Amazon Link

Marriage Unarranged – Ritu Bhatal

Marriage Unarranged read 2021

Everyone loves Bhatal online. It’s honestly hard to find a sweeter person. And, what’s more, I completely decided to buy this book when she self-described it as “Chickpea Lit”. How cute is that? I’m a sucker for puns, and I’m always looking for books about non-English, non-American cultural norms, and this book seems to be it. What’s more, I trust Bhatal’s experience, interpretation, and craft enough that I’m sure it’ll fulfill my international needs.

Amazon Link

More Reviews

Do you have a suggestion? Comments? I’m currently filled up for my review slots on the blog this year, but you can always submit a request for potential reviews on Goodreads and Amazon!

See my old reviews here

Unfillable Pit

Desire is merely emptiness lasting 
long enough for a dire span of fasting
to fade the sweetness of last time's tasting, 
leaving one breathless and for air gasping. 

Sinister my void grows, hunger gnawing, 
thirst enlarging despite ever drawing 
from the well that promises restoring 
water, but instead strengthens its calling.

I desire rich words like honey dripping. 
To simple phrases my ears stay gripping
in hopes of cheers and compliment sipping, 
but instead I fear connections slipping. 

Desire is merely emptiness lasting
long enough for a dreadful breakfasting
to prove there's no use in truly tasting
meals best kept sealed in condition pristine. 

This was written for no good reason. Just felt like it.

Photo by Philippe Donn on Pexels.com

The Devil You Know

A mouse snuffles through
A bag of bread crumbs.
It seeks grain to chew
And sate its hunger.
What does my stomach
Crave to digest and
Break down? I covet
Some form of rapture,
Like dogs with a bone
Or birds with a worm.
With this ache grown
To its final form,
I turn deep inside.
Will I starve before
I forsake my pride?
Of course not.
I cling, tenacious,
To my misery.

What goes better with poetry than a touch of depression and faking it ’til you make it?

Maybe some cake. Or things that will happen in about 4.5 hours following this post.

Either way, this was written for Sammi Cox’s Weekend Writing Prompt #192, Tenacious. You should all just be thankful I resisted the urge to write about Tenacious D. Also I didn’t know what picture to choose, so I just slapped some nonsense I liked on there.

Photo by Kaique Rocha on Pexels.com

Leaf litter – #TankaTuesday

Photo by Ray Bilcliff on Pexels.com

Scent of falling leaves
Not quite floral, not quite musk,
Signals change to come

Ah, fall – I dread it because it means winter, my least favorite season, is coming. There’s a reason I live below the Mason Dixon line, and part of it is that I don’t like cold.

This was written for Colleen Chesebro’s Tanka Tuesday #198, poet’s choice.

An Anniversary Message

They say marriage is about sparks,
About that someone who in the dark
Sets your mind and loins aflame.
But isn’t that meager? Lame?

I’ve learned in this blissful year
That’s it’s more like cracking a beer
Open and accepting farts
Are made by those with good hearts.

So while I take a hot shower,
You grunt on the throne with power.
It’s the sign of your loving care
That you keep pooping and don’t stare.

Happy Anniversary!*

This was written for Chel Owens’s A Mused Poetry Contest for 2 October 2020. I got my idea from these stupid things online about how “I wish everyone would realize love is about little things like snuggling or getting to the point where you don’t care about each others’ farts!”

Yeah, maybe you’re right, but it’s also just not terribly fun to think about in terms of romance. So here I go, making fun of those things.

*It’s not my actual anniversary.

Photo by Designecologist on Pexels.com

The Standing Stones

 

He chased her through
the standing stones,
to catch, seize her
smile and laughter.
He crashed into
megalith‘s bones
to a place of
grass and heather.
Now he’s lost to
a world unknown
unable to tear
at the aether.
She laughs anew,
his pitied groan
feeding banshee’s
lustful anger.

This poem was written for Sammi’s Weekend Writing Prompt, Megalith. Because I didn’t know the word before looking it up, I thought I’d clarify that a megalith is a stone structure like stonehenge. Pretty neat!

Photo by Stephen + Alicia on Pexels.com

Into the Redding Clouds – #Gogyohka #TankaTuesday

Sunset

Shimmer of sunlight
O’er twilight clouds.
Darkness in the east,
Hope in the west
Where lies the frontier.

Divider

This gogyohka was written for Colleen’s Tanka Tuesday #189, poet’s choice! I decided to participate this week because, as I was driving home yesterday, the sky was very brilliant. I wanted to contrast sunset, frontier, and the idea that west is “death”, the last adventure.

This picture was taken last year just before Hurricane Dorian came by. It’s not the same as what I saw last night, but a hurricane sky isn’t like anything else and I thought I’d share.

Adoption – #TankaTuesday #Haibun

getrudes-nose

The medicine man draws the marks of the chosen one on her forehead, her cheeks, with a muddle of red clay and pure springwater. The gourd bowl he draws from is stained red by years, decades, and generations of uses before. It is a holy day, and a gift must be flown to the gods. He places a bearskin cape on the chosen one’s back, the horns of a deer on her head, and precious shells in her hands. He commands her,

Stretch your holy wings –
the gods’ gift on sacred days.
Brave the daunting jump!

And so she leaps, the cape flapping in the wind, feathered wings of the gods sprouting from her back. She becomes the bird, the bear, the deer, and radiance as the child soars to her new, adopted parents.

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This was written for Colleen Chesebro’s Tanka Tuesday #184, a picture and form prompt! We were to write a haibun inspired by Frank J. Tassone’s picture of a New York natural area. I went a fantasy route.