by John Elizabeth Stintzi
Junebat is a book of free verse poetry, with an underlying narrative and connected themes between pieces concerning the author’s struggles to understand their gender identity. It’s presented in the context of metamorphosis––their life before, the change, and afterward, with one poem directly comparing this with a caterpillar changing into a moth––and it felt particularly fitting, especially when clearly expressing the idea that the “they” from before is the same as the “they” from after, but that the important change rather involves the ideas of self they possessed.
Stintzi references the work of Wallace Stevens in the notes, which makes me believe he’s a large influence on the author, though I’m largely unfamiliar with his poetry and, as such, I can’t really make deeper comparisons between the two. From reading the few Stevens poems directly referenced along with the corresponding Stintzi pieces, the biggest thing that struck me was how much more accessible Stintzi’s work is, though don’t take this to be either a mark of praise or criticism––merely a thought. Another poet I know better whom I was reminded of while reading Junebat, however, was Charles Bukowski, and this was likely for a couple of important reasons. Firstly, because of the gentle, understated writing, where meaning is built up over the course of the pieces without an overt forcing. Secondly, because the work of both poets comes across as so thoughtful and honest. Though, the Bukowski comparison only really feels apt when looking at poems that look at a more grounded, personal experience; throughout Junebat, we move between this style and one that looks at more abstract concepts, with a bigger focus on imagery and symbolism. Here, things are more reminiscent of the Beats––probably not a novel observation, due to Allen Ginsberg being mentioned in the notes.
Because neither style ever fully takes a back seat throughout the collection, it allows the author to comment on difficult concepts without ruining immersion. But it’s more than that: That Stintzi can even do this suggests their incredible ability of expression, and I really feel the need to stress that this is probably their biggest strength on display in Junebat. Because they really hit me with a visceral sense of the depression and isolation they went through that I can relate to, and they so effectively explored internal and external barriers that prevent us both from seeing the truth and from living it comfortably and happily once we find it. Junebat comes highly recommended.