AHP Managing Editor Amanda McLeod Reviews Courtney LeBlanc's 'Beautiful & Full of Monsters'

Wildlings, today our Managing Editor Amanda McLeod shares her thoughts on Courtney LeBlanc's forthcoming collection Beautiful & Full of Monsters, available for pre-order now from Vegetarian Alcoholic Press. (Pre-orders are on a discount too, so now's the time!)

Courtney LeBlanc’s Beautiful & Full of Monsters is about love. Not just its beauty, but the gritty reality of it - the hurt, the heartbreak, the darkness, and understanding that sometimes what we think is love turns out to be something very different. LeBlanc takes us on a journey through the pain, the desire, and the well of optimism that keeps us looking, tells us ‘it’s still out there’.

The book is divided into three sections. The first, ‘Monsters’  begins as a chronicle of a disintegrating relationship, marred by the cycle of abuse and apology. LeBlanc examines the darkest moments, the paralytic fear, the sense of being trapped.
Does he break me in every
she asks, poignantly capturing  the perspective of the survivor: understanding the situation, and yet helpless to escape. Her few moments of release are torn from her every time her husband finds one of them. Her journal is destroyed, her letters read, her personhood brought into question. But leaving is just not that easy. A standout moment in this first section is ‘Tide’, in which the speaker turns to a friend:
She nods slowly and the memory rises
over me, the water rushing in.
How I complained
of his temper, how unhappy I was
but unable to express it, how words
were marbles in my mouth – I tried
to talk around them without any falling
The unspoken words say so much about this relationship between two friends; the quiet acceptance from someone who doesn’t quite understand, but acknowledges that their acceptance and support are still meaningful and important. The speaker’s gained strength feels visceral, and no more so than in the final poem of this section, when she passes the new girlfriend with indifference.

In the second section, ‘Full’, we see the bloom of something new, but the first sweet flush of a new lover is still shadowed by the ghosts of the past. LeBlanc wonders at the fleeting nature of love, pondering its permanence and engaging in a complex push-pull dance in which desire and fear are unable to decide which is leading:
He sleeps beside me,
quiet and content. I stare at the dark sky, wondering
if we’ll still be together
for the next full moon.

‘Beautiful’ is the final section and here Courtney shows us the balance; how to stand on the see-saw without falling, to recover without falling. There’s loss and passion and recovery; self-worth sends small shoots up through the cracks of realisation:
And I think I have to find joy that I can have every day.
That I’m not constantly fighting for.

Courtney LeBlanc’s poetry in this book is predominantly free verse, with gentle nods throughout to various poetic devices. She uses gentle repetition in ‘Past Lover’ to emphasise the passage of time, and in ‘I Guess We’ll Have To Be Secretly In Love’ the repeated phrase is a juxtaposition of loss and beauty. This poem also uses interesting line breaks and layout to jar the beautiful language it is composed of, pulling the reader through as it spirals to its conclusion. The poems vary in length from small gems to full page creations and there is plenty of variation to keep the reader engaged, including a beautiful haibun piece. Stanzas break at exactly the right moment, allowing the reader to draw breath before plunging back in. LeBlanc excels at rich imagery and it’s easy to see the pictures she draws with her words, whether island paradise or lightning storm.

Beautiful & Full of Monsters is an intensely real collection of contemporary poetry. As her title suggests, the pages are haunted by monsters, but there is a quality about her reflections and quest for equilibrium that can absolutely be called beautiful.