The Gates of Never: Solid if a bit underwhelming collection of speculative poetry

The Gates Of NeverThe Gates of Never by Deborah L. Davitt science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Gates of Never by Deborah L. Davitt

The first thing I (unfortunately) have to note is that the formatting was off in the version of The Gates of Never I read, which clearly detracts from reading, let along critiquing, poetry. Issues of line breaks and spacing popped up, and if I looked at versions in Kindle or in Bluefire or in PDF the line breaks were different in all three, making it impossible to tell which is the author’s intended.

Setting that aside, as is often the case for me and poetry collections (or any anthology to be honest), this was a bit of a mixed bag. But since I expect that, I can’t say I was disappointed; it had about the balance of good, solid, and weak I’ve come to anticipate, though I did wish there were more examples of strong or excellent poems.

The poems are mostly myth or fairy tale based, with a number of astronomical/space-based ones coming toward the end. One’s recognition of characters, plots, or images will depend on one’s familiarity with folk tales and myths. Certainly, many are the well-known tales: Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, golems, Merlin, etc. Others are only a bit more obscure, such as the Lamia. Deborah Davitt often does a nice job of recasting the old tales in a different light, either changing up plot or giving us a perspective that evokes sympathy or compassion for characters often presented as “monsters,” such as Medusa or the afore-mentioned Lamia. That reshaping is one of the collection’s stronger points.

The style varies, with many of the poems falling into a more “prose-y” form, though others were more formalized or more traditional (though again, hard to say with surety due to the formatting issues). A few lines were startling in their originality and had me lingering over them, but these were more the exception than the rule and not as many as I prefer when I read poetry, though I’ll grant “startling” is a high bar.

Sometimes Davitt’s use of sound is a bit too on the nose for me, such as a too-blunt usage of alliteration, say, or an internal rhyme that calls too much attention to itself, but generally Davitt employs sound and rhyme to good effect, as in the assonance of “boxes in her closet” or the mix of sound techniques in “his blind eyes as her serpentine locks twined around him.” Word choice can be effectively obscure, conveying a sense of the ancient or arcane, but can also at times become a bit repetitive (not within a single poem but throughout the collection). Tone is mostly serious, but Davitt sometimes shifts gears into a more comic voice, to mixed effect (“They Pyre” I found the best of these sorts).

The vast majority of poems I’d put in the “solid” category. My two favorites by far were the truly excellent “Pieces of the Sky” and “The Last Swan,” both of which stood out for their strong POV voice and moving impact. While I thought these the best in the collection, the series of space-based ones toward the end were stronger on the whole, I thought, more often employing original, vivid imagery and having a general sense of freshness (astronomy being far less mined by poets than myths, folk tales, and fairy tales for source material). As I noted earlier, I read poetry for those startling juxtapositions of language, an unusual yoking of images, a way of phrasing something I never would have thought of but that nailed a feeling or image just right, a playfulness with language, etc. and I didn’t find enough of that in The Gates of Never. But if Davitt didn’t have me often lingering over particular imagery or phrasing, I did move smoothly through the poems, enjoying if not loving many of them, in particular for their recasting of familiar stories or characters or the way they animated bodies in space, so we see them in a different light.

Published in October 2019. The Gates of Never presents speculative poetry by one of the field’s rising voices. Erudite without pretension, Deborah L. Davitt’s debut collection fuses history, mythology, and magic seamlessly with futurism, science, and science fiction.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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