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From the title, Doe, Susan Baller-Shepard’s metaphor of a female deer moves in and out of this collection, appearing in the periphery, then moving on as Baller-Shepard mines memories of life on the prairie.

From a variety of voices, Doe presents interior and exterior landscapes, from caged zebra finches or a sick child, to a family farm sale, or the sound of owls at night. With the step-step, pause, step-step cadence of a deer’s approach, Baller-Shepard’s poetry collection advances from the personal to the mystical. Her poems advance with that step-step, pause, step-step noting other creatures in the woods (women, men, children, bees, mayflies, pheasants) and bigger concerns beyond the woods (the Last Holocaust Act of WWII, religion, wars, citizenship, God), moving deftly between the natural and spiritual world like a deer moves along the borders where the natural world and the manicured world meet.

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“A debut collection of verse delivers meditations on nature, womanhood, and a wide range of other topics. Novelists and poets use words differently. The first group heaps sentence on sentence, paragraph on paragraph, creating a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. In this context, individual words matter less. The same cannot be said for poetry. For the poet, words are precision tools, their internal tension heightened. Small alterations to the diction of, say, a Shakespeare sonnet might alter it entirely—or mar it irreparably. This truth is the motivating force behind Baller-Shepard’s fine verse volume. Accordingly, she quotes Twain, who argues that “the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” Throughout, the author plays in the tiny gaps between words, demonstrating just how significant those spaces can be. Her opening poem is an excellent example: “Doe a deer / in her muliebrity, that

‘deer / loses when made plural, / becomes does’—third person singular / present tense of do. / She’s more than what she does.” Here, Baller-Shepard, turns a tiny observation about the distinction between “does” (the plural for the female deer) and “does” (the simple verb) into a larger point about femininity, action, and identity. She pulls a similar trick in “Subtle Cues for the Non-Native Speaker,” which ruminates on the difference between “lay down” and “lie down,” an occasion to discuss much larger themes, like sex, friendship, male power, and sacrifice. Both these poems, and many others in the inspiring book, examine vital questions about gender roles and responsibilities. The author’s decision to take on such questions in verse is both brave and canny, as her conscientious poetry proves an ideal form for tackling these and other compelling themes with care and concision. Precise, carefully calibrated poetry that explores crucial issues.”

—Kirkus Reviews
“To read the poems in this fine first collection is to stroll through the lives of many females – human and animal alike — with a most companionable guide. Baller-Shepard is a remarkable new poetic voice equally at ease with observing farm women at work, discussing Einstein’s Grand Unified Theory, or contemplating the life span of a mayfly. Through Baller-Shepard’s careful excavation of the embers of memory – a blue popsicle, a clutch of irises, a high-backed wooden bench — you will find yourself mining the memories of the narrative of your own life. This is this poet’s gift to her readers.”
—Judith Valente
Author of the poetry collections Discovering Moons and Inventing An Alphabet, and co-editor of “Twenty Poems to Nourish Your Soul.”
“From the title, Doe, by Sue Baller-Shepard, anticipates a thicket of feminine myth and symbol: motherhood, martyrdom, victimhood; defenselessness, passivity; naked beauty hunted, stalked, violated, enshrined perhaps but never trophied, not like their antlered fathers and sons. The trick and magic of and through these poems is the metamorphosis of the metaphor, suggested, argued, developed through a sleight of forms, often repeating forms that advance argument passively through repetition, tricksterish word play, re-castings of memory and narrative. Reading them becomes a kind of active listening, hearing a kind of speaking; and backtracking, sliding off, getting lost, staying still, retracing steps—all a kind of advance. All those female survival skills of defense—the withdraw, hide, step out of the way, disappear tactics—unfold an offense, and change the world. Hear, hear, hear! And rejoice!”
—Lucia Cordell Getsi, PhD
Former Spoon River Poetry Review Editor, Author of Intensive Care
“Don’t let the idea of a tender-eyed doe lull you into a place of comfort. Take a deep breath. Susan Baller-Shepard is about to take you on a ride through the emotional rapids of the female experience and, indeed, the vulnerabilities, perplexities and revelations of anyone who has ever loved fiercely, worried deeply and observed life, in all its beauty and despair, with an unflinching eye.”
—Charmaine Wilkerson
Author of Black Cake
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