In the poetry of Jodie Hollander, horses run free. They represent strength, beauty, and a carefree existence that seems to elude all the humans that populate this troubled planet. “If only I were more like my dark horses,” Hollander writes in the titular poem of My Dark Horses, “I wouldn’t have to worry all the time.... I’d spend my hours grazing in the sunlight/taking long naps in vast pastures.”
Throughout this magnificent book, Hollander does worry. And she wrestles with significant moments and figures from her past that left deep imprints on her current emotional state. We meet her parents, both classical musicians that expected a lot from their children and each other. While it’s clear that her parents’ careers took the family to far-flung parts of the world (Australia, Zimbabwe, Jamaica) that many kids might never see, what sticks with Hollander the most are their passive-aggressive comments and the rare moments of praise. In one of her most devastating poems “Little Serenade,” Hollander explores the web of confusing emotions she was tangled up in following a dance recital, “It was perfect—her father was ecstatic.... Yet when she was back in her own bedroom/she would find herself quietly weeping/Had her father really thought she was good?”
Each small brush stroke of a line reveals a vast palette of emotion, particularly as Hollander delves into losing her mother to cancer and having a child of her own. The sadness, fear, and anger brought by both milestones swirls through each poem. While the wounds of the past are still fresh, there’s never a sense of bitterness or recrimination. Hollander has reached the stage of acceptance, slowly loosening her grip, and letting go with each carefully chosen word.