The Pact by Jennifer Militello. North Adams, Massachusetts: Tupelo Press, 021. 80 pages. $19.95, print. 

The Pact by Jennifer Militello is a fantastic collection of poems tackling provocative themes: complex relationships, places of vulnerability, love, and danger. The cliché of never judging a book by its cover does not apply here—a Venus flytrap on a black backdrop furthers this essence of hunger or longing in this collection but also the way relationships tend to fall into assumed roles: one might become a fly, the other becomes a carnivorous plant or a carnivore. 

The first section delves into sibling relationships and the symbiotic love required for them to operate optimally. There’s an honesty to these poems that does not quibble over issues of blame but focuses on the complexity of the relationships using extended metaphors through the Medusa myth or Frankenstein’s Monster. The poems explore the relationships in ways that indicate a sense of progress even if situated in what might appear to be a relationship in need of repair.

The second segment is devoted to love poems and sexuality. Here, Militello uses clever linguistic plays: “w (he) e” and “com-pair” in “Erotomania.” This playful reconstruction of language is fitting in what appears to be a seductive exchange of power dynamics which dives into the full scope of a relationship cycle. Subjects explored include “Odaxelagnia,” the act of biting during sex leading to sexual arousal; this seductive poem is one of a kind—honest and maybe dangerous in a good way. The poem “The Punishment of One is the Love Song of Another,” demonstrates this grappling between love and loss most clearly and is indicative of a vulnerability that is exceptionally beautiful.

The third segment is rather robust. The poem “Tough Love in A Vulgar Tongue” with its lipogramatic and alliterative functions brings about a playfulness but also a tough love for the poetic craft. Numerous poems in this segment reflect on the writer’s relationship with her mother. The poem that gave this collection its namesake, addresses the mother: “Mother, your grand chandelier/of lies has so many eyes it sees the spider or a fly in every/direction; it decides, goes for miles.” (52). 

This collection has teeth. It was written by a carnivore but also an herbivore, unafraid of expressing vulnerability, and the alternation between personas takes the reader on a wildly seductive ride that’s exciting and provocative. There is a mastery of language happening in this work that gives the thematic elements a boost of steroids, and the poems almost read themselves.

—Michael Morris, MAR