Salamander 2024 Fiction Contest

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Furs Not Mine by Andrea Cohen; The Wilderness by Sandra Lim

Valerie Duff-Strautmann
| Reviews

Furs Not Mine by Andrea Cohen (Four Way Books, 2015).
The Wilderness by Sandra Lim (Norton, 2014).
If there is a world in a grain of sand, Andrea Cohen lifts it up to
us in the predominantly short poems of her new collection, Furs
Not Mine.
The brevity of these poems allows the reader to devour
them quickly, only to pause and then go back, and then go back
again, because their speed and clarity is deceptive. In their way,
each is a complex system, and Cohen, with her perfect pitch,
pairs music with image. One word can act as prime mover, as in
the poem “Pall” (here in full):

It contains all,
but you knew that,

and how it falls
over everything,

then asks
those so bereft

they can barely
stand to stand

tall, to bear
it onward.

The poems, constructed out of grief, are still playful, as
Cohen spins meaning and rhyme to see what shakes out. What is
both gut-wrenching and paradoxically delightful about her work
is the element of surprise; the poems feel effortless to the reader,
as if there were no labor in their creation at all (as in “the
Committee Weighs In,” also here in full):

I tell my mother
I’ve won the Nobel Prize.

Again? she says. Which
discipline this time?

It’s a little game
we play: I pretend

I’m somebody, she
pretends she isn’t dead.


One is reminded of Frost’s admonition, “no tears in the writer,
no tears in the reader,” and one thinks, further, “no surprise for
the writer, no surprise for the reader.” Whether that surprise
existed for the poet herself is no matter—even if the threads of
her work are carefully plotted out, they remain Cohen’s great gift
to her reader.

Although one experiences each poem rapidly, the poems are
anything but minimalist. It is as if each stanza is buoyed by helium—
Cohen seems to favor short stanzas, which, thanks to the
way the words are hammered tight from word to word, line to
line, adds to the feeling of lift (the stanzas are often couplets or
triplets, although her longer poems without stanza breaks also
move rapidly through their line breaks, Cohen having chiseled us
a way down and through).

Valerie Duff-Strautmann is the author of To the New World (Salmon

Poetry). Poems have appeared recently or are forthcoming in Solstice, Prague

Review, and The Common. Her book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming

in the Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, PN Review, and The Critical

Flame. She is the 2015 Writers’ Room of Boston Fellow in poetry.

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