Pathways To Illumination A Book Review


There are few poetry books that actually live up to their titles, often falling short of hitting their mark for one reason or another. But the debut collection of works by Christy Birmingham, “Pathways To Illumination” certainly is not one of them. The book takes the reader for quite a ride starting off with Ms. Birmingham’s days in a rather toxic relationship which acts as a thread throughout all the pages and seems to be what holds the focus of PTI together until the final few pieces. Unlike most poetry collections, this one is broken down into sections in order to tell a linier story which allows the reader to follow the author’s redemption at the end of the book. In this way there is a kind of light and dark factor to the works in which Christy creates an almost rebirth affect, no religious references intended.

The opening stanza of the second poem would seem to suggest potential dangerous and maybe even vaguely violent situation. Here she describes her relationship with a former lover as being highly volatile, with no real relief for her, “You play me like fire, Instead of like a violin. You coax me for sweet sounds in Bed, then strike matches of anger, as You pull me into sheets of flames and trouble…” While any physical violence in their relationship, however, would only be pure speculation, the verbal abuse and neglect is far more apparent throughout the pages, with lines like:

“I sit stiff as well, With tightened throat and heart, Nausea strong in my mouth, The same way it tasted yesterday. Your strong back matches your tone of voice, Later in the evening, as you Tell me you are my last hope for a husband That no one else would ever love me again.”

The nameless boyfriend who seems more as a specter in this book rather a real physical force to the reader, does leave the scene which drives the writer into a spiraling depression and ultimately leading to a suicide attempt. Here there is a first of several language shifts which conforms to Christy’s mindset in each of these sections. The first change is that from complaint of being mistreated to blaming herself for his leaving and longing his, the boy friend’s return. The most notable of these thoughts in which she longs for the good old days came with the lines “I long to go back to days when your hugs increased my Temperature, yet did not Play poker with my thoughts.”

As the book moves on to the “Depression and “Therapy” sections, Christy spends her days living in her head often mentioning his presence only in the context of being in an almost separate world from the one she was trying to escape or at least compromise with. It’s here that the writer seems to deliver some of her most effective writing conveying the sensation of losing one’s self while in a state of depression, “I watch the faces that try to see inside me and I wonder why their eyebrows wear the Pain they think I feel, like an itchy sweater. I wonder how my face should look in return. My secret is I feel nothing at all.” The reader is brought into Christy’s world if they wish to be there or not. The repetition of wanting to escape yourself gives the reader a sort of understanding of what could lead to one try and end own life. The demonstration of using words to create the desired mood is very much accomplished here. This is especially true as she drowns herself in vodka and pills in order to leave herself for a few hours. Things come to head for her with her suicide attempt which is not described in any great detail but only services as a vehicle to move the story forward as she finds herself struggling with therapy and dealing with the outside world.

The “Therapy” section also serves as the third change in the tone of the language. The shift is to that of bitterness and self neglect. The opening line is a good example of this, “I despise the need to run water over my body Every morning, a body that Wants to delete the ways I moved with you and Wonders how I let myself abuse its skin.” Early in this section the specter of suicide is clearly present as she feels ever more separated from her own body, “They are afraid that I will hurt my skin When what they do not realize is The moles and cancer scar on my arm Share the same outfit to which I no longer belong.”Her days in therapy seems to keep Birmingham equally in conflict with those around as she was during her slide into self destruction, as she either questions the help she is receiving from her therapist or rejects the help offered by one young man who happens to be in her therapy group. But despite her struggles with recovery, some amount of heeling becomes apparent. In this section has opposed the earlier three is that she allows herself to drop the desire for the return of her former tormentor and actually starts to feel a certain amount of distain for him. By the midpoint of the therapy section Ms. Birmingham seems to be moving away her suicidal tenancies and more into a state of piece where she starts to form a healthy vision for the future, “Now, I tap creative ideas With a long inhale and exhale in the morning, With knowledge I am full of breaths and That my expiry date may not Be here yet.”

Im final sections of the book Christy starts to embrace the outside world and focuses on a new found self discovery which she described as finding real value in her life and eventually brought her to a celebration of sorts at the end of the book. The best example of this in the poem “What If”, Where she opens with the stanza “What if We stand side-by-side around the world, Stretching our arms out at the sides and Holding hands of every color While our smiles stretch wider than Disappointments can reach?”

All in all “Pathways To Illumination” is a very solid first collection of poetry using effective imagery as Christy shows a wonderful ability to use the correct words and phrasing in drawing from the reader, the desired emotion she is looking for. Christy should be very proud of her debut collection which could set the stage for a second book and should raise her own expectations for all future work.


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