Leave It Raw
by Shakira Croce
Finishing Line Press, 2020
To Order: Amazon
Review by Carole Mertz
Now and then a significant debut chapbook enters the literary stage. Almost before it can take its bows, we sense the artist’s potential and immediately call for a second act.
Most of Shakira Croce’s poems in Leave It Raw are compelling and well crafted. They place characters in vivid settings, give hints of relationships, and stir our imagination. A few poems cause the reader to beg for more clues to allow fuller comprehension. These include the opening poem, “Blue Ridge Mountain Runaway,” and “Searchlight.” The latter, though laden with suggestion, provides but scant certainty for the reader.
Yet, as I read on in the collection, I am more accepting of Croce’s scant depictions, recognizing this as part of her style in Leave It Raw. Many poems involve commuting, riding the buses and trains in and out of New York City. I was a straphanger for years in that city and know what it’s like to ride the rails and jostle with the crowds. Croce puts us there, creating the city scenes with deft poetic strokes.
In “Departure,” she writes—“she hurries from under / cranes hanging in the sky / anticipating the construction of the 29th floor.” Then midway through the lines, “Her bus arrives, and she sits / opposite a man who looks just like the actor… marveling at the light blue of his eyes.” Later, “Looking back to the man, / she was surprised that he still held her face.” As the character disembarks she realizes she feels “less alone than when she rose that morning.”
A poem with a more rural setting, “The Remains” depicts two people picking through destroyed objects following a house fire. The two recollect their shared childhood and consider again the remains of their relationship. We glimpse a charmed moment in their lives which brings the poem to an effective close: “It was the first time the two of them…/ stopped and looked deep and breathless into each other’s eyes / and laughed.”
I particularly liked the final selections in the collection; all are narrative poems. “Break from the Headlines” describes the tearing down of dead oak trees, as a child is left unattended. “Our Hands” describes a lost friendship. “Misdiagnosis” makes us wonder at a mistake in a “specialist’s” overlooking of the health records.
The final two poems, “Second Honeymoon” and “Cycle” are sweetly forward-looking. The author contemplates what “our future granddaughter will need.” She discloses a desire “to want to produce my own little girl before she’s gone.” (“She” represents the persona’s mother.)
Shakir Croce earned a Bachelor of Arts from Sarah Lawrence College and later studied in Florence, Italy. The appealing cover of Leave It Raw was designed by Warren Croce. The author is widely published in literary journals and was a finalist in the Linda Flowers Literary Award competition. We eagerly await her “second act” following a highly successful debut.