Hayes’s debut collection of poems explores the landscape of an uprooted childhood—a child of immigrants, an immigrant herself—having fled totalitarian Russia in 1978 with her parents and sister. One Strange Country, interrogates displacement and belonging, what it means to grow attached to places as much as to people. This collection takes a reader from a child's understanding of family life in the former U.S.S.R., to an understanding of what it means to come of age, marry, and give birth to children in an adopted country. "An exile's life is planned one day at a time,” Hayes declares in one poem which informs her own experiences, as a daughter, sister, wife, mother, and poet. “There is no turning back,” to a childhood —real or imagined — left behind in a native country.
The poet and reader alike, are left “resting in exile—;” one gleans “a sun, at a jumping off point, peaking at noon, yielding to a moon.” One is “unrequited by the sun;” the sun which could be a stand-in for a beloved or a dead father, offering no amnesty from its unrelenting rays. In Ostia Italy, while waiting for a visa to the United States, the poet’s mother teaches the adolescent poet “how to slay a chicken,” a skill more important in life of a budding girl than “reading literature of high Romanticism…in the dark blue of night…by a corded lamp,” like the poet’s mother once did as a girl. Hayes has embraced what Frank Bidart would call her "radical givens," those writerly obsessions that we can't escape.
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ELENA KARINA BYRNE
ROD VAL MOORE
NOWHERE WITH HIM,
Nowhere with Him is a moving and brave poetry collection that tells the story of unrequited love. In this intimate telling, Stella Hayes chronicles a 14-year old girl’s exile from her native Russia to Chicago in the late 1970s, her devastating separation from her father to his sudden death. She makes him up years later as an adult, searching for him beyond the physical, with paper maps that leave her placeless, and displaced from the emotional fabric that she yearns for—a father who cannot help her sort out the world; the girl who is left to live her life without him. Elegy and rumination. The book’s exploration of the loss of home and language, most poignantly leave us reflecting on the ways trauma inhabits us, and love breaks us down.