Review: Flames at Her Chest: A Cancer Survivor’s Ecofeminist Poetics

Unaccountable Weather, by Kathryn Kirkpatrick : Reviewed by Dorine Jennette Kathryn Kirkpatrick’s Unaccountable Weather links the health of body, land, and spirit in lyric and narrative poems that recount the speaker’s treatment for breast cancer. Some pieces are semi-surreal lyrics, while other poems take the form of monologues from a patient. One strong lyric is “The Garden of Lost Breasts,” in which the breasts “arrive on the backs of herons, / in the pouches of possums.” Once in the garden, the breasts find that “[b]ecause they have often fed others, // the animals refuse to eat them”. In the monologue “Donna Goes Dancing,” the speaker gets carried away on the dance floor and flings the prosthetics from her “Dolly Parton bra” at her surprised but laughing partner. Still other pieces, such as “Called Back,” travel the speaker’s memory to non-cancer-related experiences of violence and oppression. Collectively, pieces treating oppressive episodes bind the collection together, for Kirkpatrick links gender-based and class-based violence against people to violence against landscapes. She then connects habitat destruction to its inevitable consequences for human bodies, steeped as we are in “plastics and pesticides”. Through her persistence in drawing the reader’s attention again and again to interconnectedness and its consequences, Kirkpatrick’s Unaccountable Weather, though not an overtly “political” book, sings a quiet but insistent ecofeminist anthem.