REVIEW BY EMILY PULLEN
WORD (Brooklyn & Jersey City)
Karen Green has created an amazing multivalent thing—a document, a journal, a poetry book, an art piece. Whatever you decide to call it, it's probably different from what I've called it, and that is part of its beauty.
Within her images, words lurk; and in her words, images pervade. They perform both literally and figuratively. Receipts, fingerprints, documents, words and colors, always colors—this detritus of life both appears on the surface and cuts beneath it. As she copes with her husband's mental illness and suicide, it’s the daily things—the dogs and the garden, the pills and the shirts—that connect her to their life together.
But Green feels and does things that she's not supposed to. Or rather, she feels things that others are afraid to articulate. She is angry at her husband at a time when everyone is mourning and honoring him. She is angry at the platitudes that people offer for solace: "I don't want him at peace," she writes. “I want him pissed off at politicians, ill at ease… getting spinach caught between the canine and gum.” She takes his pills after he’s gone to feel what he felt. Green is very attuned to bodies, hers and his, the weight, the breath, and she doesn’t shy away from the brute reality of them. She experiences so much viscerally, and the reader will be hit viscerally.
That her husband was a public figure (though if you don't know who, don't look it up until you’ve read the book) means that there was a very public reaction to his death. But Bough Down brings to the reader her more private sadness, the complexity of emotion that surrounds mental illness and suicide and grief, the identification and sympathy and anger that she went through trying to figure out what her life might look like after such loss. Green starts simply by observing the materials of her life, of his life, of their lives together. What she ends up giving us is so much more.