Birth in Storm, A Review By Raylyn Clacher

Storms abound in Birth in Storm, a chapbook by Leah Sewell. These aren’t the pleasant storms that make for quiet nights in of romance or contemplation. Sewell’s storms are violent and life-changing, their own force bent on destruction and re-creation. The poems of Birth in Storm all share this impending, kinetic energy. Through tightly controlled images and a quietly purposeful, authoritative tone, Sewell explores the journey from birth, to girlhood, to motherhood with an urgency that commands attention.

But Birth in Storm is not just a chapbook with poems about storms. Yes, her narrators often find themselves caught in the middle of tornados. But what are these storms that beset her poems; what are these storms that shape the women who survive them? What does a tornado mean to the young woman in “Tornado Drill” who “wore my backpack backwards, / so with cleaving textbook corners / & weight of sack lunch, / I was pregnant fleeing the great drone / of the tornado drill tornado”? What would this young girl have to say to the teenager in “Sister,” who, when left home alone at night, puts a stray kitten outside in the middle of a tornado? What does a storm mean to the mother in “Backyard,” who keeps one eye on her children and the other on a storm that “dressed in evening pink / unfurls & grows”? These storms become their own living beings, outward manifestations of the inner lives of the narrators.

Undoubtedly, the poems of Birth in Storm are powerful. Through a masterful control of image, bred by an imagination that runs wild, Sewell creates a world in which we can all slow down for a moment, consider not only the wonder of motherhood or the power of growing into a woman, but the urgent terror of it all. Birth in Storm is a collection in which the author asks us all to come inside the tornado with her, to enter the swirl of creation. Sewell asks us to consider the pull of the wind, the electric atmosphere, feel the braids and tendons that pull us along. Most importantly, she asks us to consider the power of creation within ourselves.

The Breath before Birds Fly, an Amazon Review by Eli Wolfman

I don’t write reviews. I had to do so for this book. The cover was so beautiful and the title so attractive that I had to get this! The book is even dedicated to me, well, any reader actually which is nice.

Only 23 poems, this feels heavy and solid more like a book than a chap. From the beginning, we are exposed to a world of beauty and longing, a world of melancholy and family: “The day mother and I leave, two / Canada geese arrive– / their long, black necks arrow / toward the pond and fold into themselves / like cocktail napkins. I hope….” Through nature and imagery the reader connects to the words, feels the story in each piece. I love the line breaks, so moving: “two”, “arrive”, “arrow”, “themselves”, and “hope”. Why aren’t more people reading this?

In the next poem, there is an angel or father or farmer, definitely something old like out of Marquez: “In the barn, he removes / and folds his clipped wings, / a blue-gray from age….. his back bare with ghost limbs….”

I could easily go through each poem. I love the one where he addresses God in “After You Left” and the Hurricane poem that takes a different angle, narrating almost drowning from the point of view of a preacher/rabbi’s son. He begins with “Because I always wanted one, / my father has pulled a hairless cat / out of my chest”. How can you not want to read on? The writer does this again and again, taking the topics heard so often and flipping them to a different angle. For example, “Miracle Shoes” is about the Holocaust Museum and the famous exhibit of stacked shoes, yet they take a magical realism angle as they float and dance in the air until “the shoes start to slip through” an open door. The title of the book can be found in this poem.

When the writer says “Sometimes we all feel like the last, / a single stick in a rushing river”, how can one not nod and know this poet speaks to each of us as every poet should. While so many don’t, this one captivates even those who do not know and read poetry!

Here is one poem in its entirety: “Echo Locating”

If you are lucky
you will find your echo,
not the cartoon version,
perched on a canyon’s edge
with the empty yelling
and cheeks like apples,
but the space that extends you,
fills the void
and becomes you
the way twigs return to a tree,
nest-warm.