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.