Megan Peak’s debut collection Girldom chronicles coming of age as a woman: the violence of discovery, the evolution of sexuality, and the demanding yet necessary acts of self-preservation and resistance. Amid landscapes of wasps and nettle, cold moons and icy rivers, daughters navigate trauma and desire, sisters bear witness to each other’s trajectories, and girls experience worlds of both rage and tenderness. There is an impounded beauty in Girldom, the beauty of a healing wound. Compressed yet explosive, these poems shake like fists and vibrate with the seeking of voice. “I was a girl before I was anything else,” the poet writes. In the midst of the #MeToo movement, Peak’s book is timely and timeless in its confrontation of the constraints and concerns bound up in being a girl.
One paces the floor, footsteps light as salt.
Another stacks stones, builds a pebbled catacomb.
One of them unstrings a necklace and counts
the pearls. One shines like pomegranate flesh
in a storm. There’s one the shape of a pistol, and one
like a mouth. There’s a girl walking to the window
with a moth in her pocket. You hold one made of copper.
Of sand. Of yellowed cloth. You watch one dive
into a well, her daddy’s belt around her waist.
Already there’s one leaving home and one without a face.
One hides under the snow’s bold dress. Another in a lock
of hair. This girl is a kind of tornado in the spring, gripping
hard the fur of a rabbit’s nape. You call to one
who’s picking foxglove, who’s jumping the fence.
Sometimes you hear one in the attic making spider webs.
Or slipping currants, like dark coins, under her tongue.
There’s one who sits in a field—blue grass rising
around her like fever. But you christen the one who burns
through dirt like a steel hoof. The girl who shears
her long braid to fatten the fire. You don’t call that one luna.
You call her light from a dead, dead place.
Winner of the 2019 Philosophical Society of Texas’s Book Prize in Poetry and the 2018 John A. Robertson Award for Best First Book of Poetry from the Texas Institute of Letters
Finalist for the 2019 daVinci Eye Award and the 2018 Writers’ League of Texas Book Award, and poem “What I Don’t Tell My Mother about Ohio” was a finalist for the Nina Riggs Poetry Award from Cave Wall Press
“In her bold debut collection, Megan Peak writes, ‘I was a girl before I was anything else.’ The girls in Girldom—the one ‘who burns / through dirt like a steel hoof,’ the one ‘who shears / her long braid to fatten the fire’—hack their way through the nettles and thorns of sexual awakening and sexual trauma. Claiming one’s body—one’s self—is vulnerable, brave, and important. So are these poems.” —Maggie Smith, author of Good Bones
“Megan Peak’s Girldom is a breathtaking and necessary book that confronts childhood mythology, sexual consciousness and violence, and the nature of love. In one poem, Peak writes, ‘your mouth was full of fields/ with horses, all unbound—all crying / their long red sounds,’ and in another, ‘. . .but the light bulb, / which is my tongue, glows—.’ How perfectly these lines capture the experience of reading Peak’s extraordinary poems. Girldom is a powerful debut by a poet who has the sensual, grieving world in her mouth.” —Allison Benis White, author of Please Bury Me in This
“In Girldom, Megan Peak writes, ‘For each girl / I’ve ever been, I call a detective.’ And what can the investigations yield but her body, her sister, her sexuality? What is a girl but a foal who can’t live, the dull utility of boxes, the sting of wasp and nettle, a tender bleeding in the snow? Peak’s love of language and of women, her indictment of male violence and self-blame, her brave and artful exploration of trauma and its aftermath are but a few of the reasons to cherish this debut. Peak’s growth narrative is a complex emotional experience rather than a linear one, her material investigated through the lens of a queer survivor of sexual violence in poems alternately angry, luscious, chilling, and rhapsodic: evidence ample and accessible enough to challenge, affect, and—I daresay—change a reader.” —Kathy Fagan, author of Sycamore
“… a daughter is light and so Peak’s work takes us through the boundless incarnations and vitality of women — once girls, always daughters, often wild, sometimes lovers, always curators of self, and always both prism and light.” — Hannah Larrabee, Glass: A Journal of Poetry
“As I read Girldom, I realized the book is a sister/daughter of Elizabeth Bishop’s Geography III. Both collections confront the horror surrounding the body, the sense of ‘otherness’ from the self.” —Jennifer Martelli, Up the Staircase Quarterly
“Girldom is not the first great book of poetry about overcoming violation, but it is one of the wisest. Mark Doty once wrote of ‘how the world gives luster as it falls apart,’ but Megan Peak has shown us how it does the same while pulling itself back together again.” —Seth Copeland, petrichor
“Girldom explicates multiple truths, i.e., fragility vs. strength, pleasure vs. pain, trauma vs. recovery, to arrive at the reality of one girl’s – and by extension every girl’s – life. As Muriel Rukeyser asked in her poem ‘Käthe Kollwitz,’ ‘What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?’ Megan Peak’s debut is a riveting, challenging, and powerful answer.” — Erica Goss, Sticks & Stones
“Poetry … doesn’t [always] whisper, we’re in this together. But Peak’s work did, to me. And I’m writing this, more or less, as a thank you to Peak and Perugia Press. Every time I open Girldom, I feel as if I’m pulled into a world of ice, tenderness, thorns, honey, and all of the messy work that healing is. All of the messy work that being a girl is.” — Bina Ruchi Perino [READ FULL REVIEW]
“If there are so many ways of being emptied, are there equally as many ways of being filled up again? Each person gets to decide how to regain fullness. Poems, like photographs, with their edges as boundaries, are great at showing just enough information to make meaning possible. And that’s precisely what Peak gives us in Girldom—just enough to make meaning possible.” —Katy Dycus, The Wild Detectives Bookstore