Lent by Kate Cayley

Kate Cayley’s Lent is a gathering of powerful poems that tell tentatively hopeful stories of domesticity, ecology, and faith. Each poem stands on its own while having in common a focus on introspection and finding one’s place in relation to larger phenomena. Cayley captures speakers whose concerns range from learning to know God to imagining the intent of the billionaire who owns Anne Sexton’s glasses. 

Cayley tackles each poem’s subject thoroughly and effectively—her style is readable while still incisive. The first section, “Interior,” is a series of shorter poems that explore anxieties about parenthood by way of nonhuman subjects. The object poem format frames domestic settings as having inner lives comparable to the human speakers:

I must praise household objects.
For they conquer time patiently
by the sink or door.

Amid the complexities of religion and gender for a queer family, characters such as a toy rabbit and a swallowed ladybug offer mixed comfort. 

“Art Monsters,” the second section, examines the impact of art and artists on those around them. Assia Wevill reflects on Sylvia Plath, whose husband Ted Hughes had an affair with Wevill; significant works by the Dutch masters come to life; we hear from the perspectives of mermaids and werewolves; and Mary Shelley finds comfort in her monster:

Dodged a series of nightmares which sought to swallow me up.
In the end, it was I who ate everything and swelled accordingly.

This section, while containing fantastic individual poems, is the odd one out. Other than a few wide-reaching themes and the same strong poetic voice, “Art Monsters” interrupts the flow between the first and third sections, preventing the collection from being read smoothly. This may benefit readers who read the book a section at a time, with multiple days in between, but the four sections are difficult to review as a unit.

The third section, “Sixty Harvests,” reads as a continuation of the first section, returning to themes of parenthood in the contemporary world, a world that is running out of time. Rising tides and a looming pandemic feed a sense of a ticking clock, both a universal worry of not having enough time with one’s children and a pressing knowledge that the changing climate is growing more and more irreversible. 

The titular poem is saved for last, earning a section of its own. “Lent” is an emotional and striking piece that pulls the three previous sections of the book together. It borrows the use of intertexts and the list poem format from “Art Monsters” to frame a series of reflections on the speaker’s relationship to religion, harvesting themes that were planted in the first and third sections. “Lent” eventually finds beauty and release in uncertainty: “We keep smiling. Decent, conscientious. Not willing to be obliterated.” 

Kate Cayley grapples with overwhelming themes with elegance and precision. Each poem can stand alone, supported by Cayley’s expert grasp on meter and emotion, but the separate sections tell moving stories. Linked by the concluding titular poem, Lent is a brilliant read that answers every question it asks.

Zoe Shaw is a writer, editor, and administrator based in Tiohtiá:ke/Montreal. She is managing editor at carte blanche literary magazine. Her major interests are in gender and sexuality, ecocriticism, and the elegy in British Romantic poetry, which she explored in her master’s thesis at McGill University. @zoestropes on Instagram. Her website is http://zoeshaw.com/

About the Author

Kate Cayley is the author of three poetry collections, including Lent, a young adult novel, and two short story collections. Cayley lives in Toronto.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Book*hug Press (April 4 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 86 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771668113
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771668118