Everything Never Comes Your Way

In her inviting third poetry collection, Everything Never Comes Your Way, Nicole Stellon O'Donnell (You Are No Longer in Trouble) muses on the struggles and transcendence of "family-tethered Alaska life." The title comes from the opening poem, addressed to a young baseball player, and introduces the element of chance, which O'Donnell further investigates in "Memoir," about the vicissitudes of life and what we choose to omit from the record.

The book is heavily autobiographical, dwelling on dreams, a daughter's cancer treatment and a trip to observe school lessons in India. "Chicago Gothic" remembers a scandal from the poet's family history ("the crazy aunt who killed my great-grandmother by pushing her down the stairs"). Death is a certainty for which, she wryly announces, she likes to be prepared: "Just start the funeral now./ Today. Before any one/ of us has died. Call dinner/ a wake."

Another thread considers the late John Haines, an Alaskan poet for whom O'Donnell's adulation waned as she questioned his notion of the "single self in the wilderness as the key to enlightenment." Instead, she acknowledges how human arrogance is threatening other creatures' existence, especially in a late poem about the wolves of Denali National Park.

The style is alliterative; the structure varies from prose blocks to traditional forms like a canzone and a "golden shovel" incorporating Haines's lines. Use of the imperative creates an aphoristic tone, as in "Be wrong well." Whether picking cranberries, watching ravens or handling a family crisis, O'Donnell exudes hard-earned, place-specific wisdom. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck

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