By Stacey Balkun. Sundress Publications, 2022.
Stacey Balkun’s debut full-length collection, Sweetbitter, is an examination of youth, gender, sexuality, and yearning at an atomic level. The collection reads like a fever dream as Balkun uncovers the radioactive darkness that hides beneath the earth’s surface and how it seeps into the lives of those who come near. The speaker takes us with them into the wilderness, wanting the world to be perceived differently, begging to be seen as more. From sapphic longing and poisoned baptisms to contaminated bodies and the gendered erosion of autonomy, Sweetbitter is the product of a restless coming-of-age story. In it, puberty is swimming in a toxic pond and recklessness is disguised as control. With Balkun’s hazy, dream-like storytelling, the speaker is a wild creature challenging the social confines of being human, being girl. Sweetbitter is a gripping, sometimes suspenseful, poetry collection that leaves you hungry for more.