Blog, Book Reviews

Review: SURVIVING HOME by Katerina Canyon


Content warning: abuse, drug use, rape

In Katerina Canyon’s poetry collection, SURVIVING HOME, her life is present. Everything she has endured, particularly in her childhood, does not bind her. It empowers her to reflect. There are reflections as there are memories and questions. She is understanding wrongdoing that is as personal as it is political. She controls the sand through the hourglass. 

MY LIFE MAP was a poem that grabbed my soul. I know these streets, these intersections. I grew up in Los Angeles yet this is not Hollywood, Laurel Canyon, Sunset Boulevard, or Los Feliz. The streets in that poem are of a Los Angeles that feels dangerous, unbecoming of a gilded city. These formative places of Canyon’s upbringing are of mine. Freeways are labyrinths of despair and surviving. They carry with us long after we ride off the exit. 

MY PAIN IS SCULPTED INTO ART FOR YOU TO CONSUME has the line “consume it” that repeats. I was with Canyon as she juxtaposed Black life with the ills consumed by it. Then, at the end of the poem, the line is no longer there. It was a battle cry that stopped before the battle could begin. I would have stayed with the poem longer if “consume it” was still there. 

Katerina Canyon writes about her mother that empathizes with her humanity. Their house was not a home, as the lyric sung by Luther Vandross goes. Canyon’s father is just as alive in the poems. There is no guilt trip. There is nary empathy either as she recalls his abuse and memories of watching him buy drugs. Canyon’s parents are held accountable for the fissures of her memories of surviving. She writes about searching for her mother in Carol Burnett in the poem, AN AFTERTHOUGHT OF A NETFLIX SHOW. 

A couple of titles in this book mention men who are despicable. She even deigns to compare one of them to her father. There is no neglecting what she has seen from both of them. However, she becomes a victor. It was jarring to see their names in each poem’s title but she justifies why they are used by the conviction of her words. 

I LEFT OUT “BELLS AND WHISTLES” WRITTEN WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM WEBSTER’S DICTIONARY is the longest poem in the collection. It returns to a battle cry by telling what terms like “band-aid,” “SWAT,” and “Black-on-Black crime” mean. It is alarming, cumbersome. The word delegitimize anchors in the poem. She makes room for peace by the poem’s end.

Katerina Canyon is a Black woman making sense of the wrongs that shape her memories while living in a world that sees her as a wrong. She lets the reader in just enough as she writes about what she has endured. She is also not just writing about herself but her siblings who endured abuse. It would feel as if there is no break to the injustice. I have written about thriving instead of surviving. In this collection, surviving feels as an exhale. Her stories ripple throughout the collection, giving SURVIVING HOME power. 

Ashley Paul is a hopeless wanderer, baker, runner, and photographer. She is passionate about supporting high school juniors and seniors to write compelling stories for their post-secondary careers. Her favorite genres are young adult, literary fiction, and memoir.

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