Salt + Honey by Isabel Abbott


“We are all deserving of the words of devotion.” – Isabel Abbott

From the moment I started reading, I knew this book would change me. Because of lines like these, as searingly personal as they are inclusive:

the love that decides when and where it will be spilled out, without apology (from “To Frida”)

For all the inevitable regrets, the mystery to which I offer all of
me, and the move toward freedom for all people. (from “adaptation”)

all the thousands of years of stories about the hollow inside me (from “wandering womb”)

And the way Isabel’s verses make me feel accompanied on this beautiful and harrowing journey:

So bring what wrecks you and what sustains you,
what haunts you and heals you.
Come, again and again.
I will stay with you. (from “an invitation”)

Many of her poems are full of want, full of hunger. Full of permission and clashing contradictions and room for everything, reverence as much for what’s broken as the healing that comes from letting life have its way with you. It’s one of the things I’ve long loved about her writing, the way it leaves nothing out, the way her mind-heart-eye surveys inner and outer landscapes and makes a home of them.

From city skyline to monsoon to desert to open road to white walls and back doors, from clutched fists to “hands open like the unfurled fronds,” from the “slit cavern that houses a heart” and “closed over skin and forever raised welt” (“hearts and bone”), these are poems of grief and presence and love for life so big you can’t help but feel like the poems themselves are wrapping their arms around your whole body and saying, “Come in. Come inside of your own waiting life.”

Today is as good a day as any, to love what we love,
and be as we truly are, and decide
we are done waiting for our real lives to begin. (from “beginning again”)

Rather than back away from real life, Isabel dives into it in the tradition of Adrienne Rich. A footnote to the short but powerful poem, “ni putas, ni santas—sólo mujeres” — offers this alternative to sanitizing the past to make it more sellable: “Tell the most real story instead.” And as if in conversation with Frida Kahlo, she embraces loss and brokenness as the raw material for a real life fully lived:

i am standing in the thunder
and gardens grow in the ashes (from “surviving”)

There will be no gold stars at the end of this life given out for
how much we suffered,
denied ourselves or displaced our desire. (from “I’d rather live in sin”)

Make a religion of your contradictions,
make a nest of your broken parts and
become a place you come home to. (from “after the fall”)

One of my favorite pieces is “think in ways you’ve never thought before” — a list of 11 things, every single one of which makes a reader stop and think and feel and reconsider her entire reality could be bigger, both more solid and less fixed than she ever imagined.

Isabel’s poems do this. They say: Come, come inside and swim around and lose yourself and find yourself here. Her not only willingness but fierce devotion to truth and beauty, “fists of flowers” and so many names for the heart, have this effect of both softening and emboldening me as I read. One of her footnotes “integration is not merger,” speaks to the independence born of not leaving oneself.

Salt + Honey is nothing short of a love letter to Life herself, from a powerhouse poet and activist who embodies the all-the-way-in-ness of living without leaving anything out, or knowing that “no” is a complete sentence, and that survival is at once expensive and priceless. It’s the rare kind of book you can sit and read all at once, or savor one bite at a time for weeks, months, and years. Don’t miss it.

Visit Isabel’s online home to learn more about her work to order your own copies of Salt + Honey. And be sure to stop by her Virtual Book Party on Thursday, August 18. 


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