A Good Book of Poems: Leigh Chadwick’s Your Favorite Poet
“I write a book of poems. I title it Your Favorite Poet. It is a good book of poems,” begins Your Favorite Poet, Leigh Chadwick’s very, very good debut book of poems. If the self-reflexive title and prologue have momentarily dissuaded you from buying this book, I would like to politely grab you by the shirt collar, drag you to the poetry section of your nearest independent book store, open up a copy of Leigh Chadwick’s Your Favorite Poet, and read aloud from literally any page until you realize how desperately you need this book in your life:
“I always wait at least forty-five minutes after therapy before having sex. Every spring I pick up a second job planting pollen in dandelions. On Thursdays I listen to the same Frankie Cosmos song as I follow myself into the afternoon.” (Frankie Cosmos Is a Good Band Name)
“I am born an ostrich in a bomb shelter in some small town in Iowa. Minutes after my birth, a tornado knocks on the shelter door. Hello, the tornado says, I am here to kill who is supposed to be killed.” (Hint of Color)
“I can’t remember the last time we fucked to the silence of alliteration. Minutes turn into miles and miles turn into decades. In ten years, we will be ten years older. We’ve sharpened our teeth into knives.” (I Delete Every Emotion That Was Never Worth Capitalizing)
The surface persona of Leigh Chadwick’s Your Favorite Poet quickly drops its defenses to reveal a speaker of startling sincerity who, more than anything else, worries—about her daughter, about her marriage, about her health, about the spreading threat of gun violence in the U.S. “The road to heaven is lined with bullet casings and leftover pieces of children too slow to duck,” begins the first poem. “Leigh Chadwick moves to a state so red you can’t tell if you’re bleeding,” Leigh Chadwick says later. “I take five pills every morning to forget the definition of feel,” Leigh tells us early on. There is a fierce vulnerability hiding in plain sight in these poems, in “a bed made of smaller beds,” in “the memory of the night in the bar,” in “keeping my daughter’s heart my daughter’s heart.” Leigh Chadwick is a poet of remarkable tenderness, as in Deer Poem, the third poem in the collection, which ends, “Your heart threatened nothing but its next beat.” These poems threaten even less: they comfort us with mutual worry.
Leigh Chadwick is a disarmingly relatable poet. Almost every poem in my copy is filled with “yes!”s and “awesome!”s and “so true!”s raining down the margins. I tried my best to read this book in one sitting, but I kept running to my notebook to write down my new favorite line, not knowing every other line would be my new favorite line. Here are just a few favorite favorites from my notes: “If you wait long enough, even a cloud will rot.” (Foreplay I.) “Right now is what I miss most about right now.” (What Do People Do When People Do People Things?) “I quit poetry/to write better poetry.” (What Cheer) “I am trying to figure out why some people get to exist and others don’t.” (Bullets Not Included) (Some more marginalia: “love this attitude!” “total non-sequitur!” “this speaker is so real!”—all from the same poem. Any guess would be correct.)
Leigh Chadwick’s imagination never fails her. “I go to bed a Jehovah’s Witness. I dream Armageddon filing its taxes. I dream people climbing out of the dirt and dusting off their cellphones,” begins Mass of Thoughts. The leap between the apocalyptic and the mundane is a thrill to read and reread, and the phonetic echo of the expected “clothes” in the surprise of “cellphones” keeps me on my toes until the poem ends, startlingly, with a confession: “I start a Daniel Johnston cover band between my hips and cover the pillows with the memory from the afternoon at the lake.” Leigh Chadwick begins a poem with detached irony, moves through concern, and ends by telling you half a secret. I don’t know any other poet besides Leigh Chadwick who writes like Leigh Chadwick and gets away with it.
When you inevitably flip back to the first page of Leigh Chadwick’s Your Favorite Poet the moment you finish it, you’ll be surprised to find out she’s being modest when she says, “It is a good book of poems.” Leigh Chadwick’s Your Favorite Poet is, in fact, one of the best I’ve read all year. You don’t need me tugging at your shirt collar to convince you. Go out and buy this book, this brave and generous abundance.
Leigh Chadwick is the author of the poetry collection Your Favorite Poet (Malarkey Books, 2022), the collaborative poetry collection Too Much Tongue (Autofocus, 2022), co-written with Adrienne Marie Barrios, and Sophomore Slump (Malarkey Books, 2023). Her poetry has appeared in Salamander, Passages North, Identity Theory, The Indianapolis Review, Pithead Chapel, and CLOVES Literary, among others. She is the executive editor of Redacted Books and is also a regular contributor at Olney Magazine, where she conducts the “Mediocre Conversations” interview series.