Review of Amanda Lopez's "Soul Search"
Soul Search by Amanda Lopez is a chapbook that showcases excellent design, organization, and lyrical content. The collection is dressed in a jet black cover with white ink sketches of two plants as well as what appear to be white and blue gusts of wind. It is a simple cover, but one that effectively evokes two of the chapbook's major themes of growth and change. I also liked that the poet’s name was written in a cursive font that resembled the flow of the aforementioned gusts of wind. I did, however, find the placement of Lopez’s name to be odd, as having it so far into the lower left corner of the cover resulted in the p and z of her last name being cut off at the bottom. A more aesthetically pleasing position would result from either moving the name slightly higher or placing it underneath the title, which is already underlined with dashes that can act as a clear separation between the title and the poet’s name. Nevertheless, the rest of the chapbook’s design (in addition to its organization and lyrical content, which we will cover shortly) more than makes up for this stylistic choice.
The poetry collection contains 14 poems in total that are separated into four sections: For Rhythm & Sound (3 poems), For Abel (3 poems), For God (4 poems), and For Myself (4 poems), in that order, with each section displaying more introspection than the one before it. All the poems are written in free verse, and each one possesses a different form than the others. For example, in the section titled "For Rhythm & Sound", the first poem Tickle Your Ear contains three stanzas: the first and third stanzas being quatrains with end rhyme, and the second stanza being a tercet without end rhyme. Compare that to the section’s second poem Grim, which is composed of four rhythmic couplets with less conspicuous sound patterns, or the section’s third poem By the Pound, a rhymed and rhythmic piece written in paragraph form with slashes to indicate line breaks, and it becomes abundantly clear that no two pieces are alike. However, a consistent theme always threads the diverse poems together to form one section. As stated previously, Tickle Your Ear relies substantially on rhyme, Grim on rhythm, and By the Pound on both poetic devices. Therefore, of all the poems in this collection, it makes sense that the aforementioned three would belong to For Rhythm & Sound.
Diversity of forms and a uniting theme can be observed in the other sections of the chapbook as well, which demonstrates for readers the complexity of the human soul and the core concepts that keep it together. In the second section titled "For Abel", the core concept of love is apparent in its three poems. In My Love, the speaker is serenading a lover, in Diffident for Love, the speaker expresses their insecurities that arise while romantically involved with a lover, and in God’s Sense of Humor (2017), the speaker is dreading the approaching death of a lover. It is unclear whether the lover in each of these poems is the same person or not, since few details are given about the individual that would allow for distinctions. This is likely intentional, as limited descriptions about the lover means that focus will be kept on the speaker’s thoughts and feelings in the relationship(s). Furthermore, the few, broad details about the lover can enable readers who have romantic experiences of their own to better relate to the speaker’s self-discovery in these poems.
God’s Sense of Humor (2017) transitions readers into the chapbook’s third section titled "For God". In its poems, the speaker discusses their spiritual encounters with God, with the world around them, and within themselves. It is in this section that Lopez begins to utilize writing techniques that deviate drastically (and mostly successfully) from traditional forms, a trend that continues into the fourth section. "For God" begins with a poem that would seemingly possess no apparent title if it weren’t for the chapbook’s table of contents stating that the date 1-19-13 written below the piece is the acting title. The positioning of this title causes this piece to resemble a journal entry, which I think is not only intentional, but also perfect for the nature of the poem. The second poem Messages from God When Using Predictive Texts in My Spiritual Group on Facebook, like the name implies, is a series of messages, eight to be exact. What makes this poem’s form unique is the fact that each message begins with the phrase Dear Me, followed by a short indented stanza. The resulting structure loosely resembles a text thread on the page, which seems quite fitting when considering the title. The third poem Planted would have an otherwise simple form if it weren’t for the fact that the phrase which begins every stanza (“Flowers never grow in my garden”) is underlined. This is one of the few stylistic choices that I wasn’t fond of. Being that this phrase is already being repeated at the start of each stanza, the added emphasis only served to distract me from the rest of the poem. With that being said, this happened to still be one of my favorite poems, not only of the section, but also of the entire poem. The plant metaphors were a perfect way of representing the detrimental and beneficial sentiments that we allow to grow within us. Reckoning, the final poem of this section, carries a message that alluded me more than any other poem in the chapbook. The lines were beautifully written, and each of the three stanzas on their own were clear in their messages. However, as I read the poem in its entirety, I struggled to see the thematic link between the first stanza and the other two stanzas, almost as if the remaining two stanzas are better suited for making another poem.
The final section of the poetry collection, titled "For Myself", displays the themes and poetic devices of the previous sections in a way that provides a holistic illustration of the speaker’s inner self while providing even more exposition about the speaker. In fact, it appears that at this point in the chapbook, the speaker has fully realized their identity. In the section’s first poem Hello Lover, any doubts or insecurities expressed in the section "For Abel" are nowhere to be seen. In the second poem Untitled 2017, one can clearly see the rhythm and rhyme reminiscent of Rhythm & Sound. The final two poems, Country Grammar and To live a life fulfilled. were arguably my two favorites in the entire collection, with the former exhibiting clever, comedic, and sentimental metaphors through southern vernacular and the latter showcasing an acrostic that serves as one of the most genuine prayers I’ve seen put to paper.
If I had to decide on this collection’s greatest weakness, it would be (and I’m nitpicking here) that there were various places where the grammar mechanics could have been better (i.e. missing commas, missing apostrophes, a lack of capitalization, etc.). All things considered, however, I conclude that Soul Search is an incredible read (even without taking into account the fact that it is Lopez’s first chapbook) and lives up to its name as a journey of unraveling and making peace with one’s innermost being.