Good Monster

Image of Good Monster
Release Date: 
May 14, 2024
Copper Canyon Press
Reviewed by: 

“It takes more than guts to write great poems about shattering truths, chronic pain and trauma, vulnerability in relationships, and regrettable sexual encounters.”

Good Monster, poems by the award-winning Dominican American poet, Diannely Antigua, unearths the hidden potential for empowerment in grotesquerie. She begins with an epigraph of five lines from the poem “Ars Poetica” by Dorothea Lasky:

            “Like when he said I am no good

            I am no good

            Goodness is not the point anymore

            Holding on to things

            Now that’s the point.”

It’s suggested from the beginning that Antigua intends to address the intersections between the good and the monstrous. Monsters are inhuman in nature, often violent, cruel or evil. Someone who commits a form of moral transgression may be called a monster. But the scary truth is, sometimes the monster is us. The metaphor of the monster allows Antigua to explore human traits and experiences that might be considered monstrous or frightening by societal standards. Forcing an honest look, Antigua tears the human self apart.

It’s not unusual for poets to take inspiration from the most repulsive qualities of existence. We look to Antigua’s poems, then, to delve innovatively into the human psyche while also illuminating moments of hope and transcendence. The output is more than artistic expression or confrontational catharsis. It takes more than guts to write great poems about shattering truths, chronic pain and trauma, vulnerability in relationships, and regrettable sexual encounters. Antigua has taken the honest road Lasky’s lines traveled upon: “Goodness is not the point anymore.” Living is.

Working confidently with the line, Antigua uses form to hold up the intricate layers, such as in her series of numbered “Sad Girl” sonnets and diary entries. The poems go way beyond existential angst, thus transcending the superficiality often associated with sad girl culture.

Antigua skillfully navigates the depths of her own psyche, engaging the shadows (and monsters) that reside within. From “Diary Entry #34: Epigenetics”:

“. . .There will always be

scarcity—less food, less Klonopin—

which is to say I own a legacy of fear.

Tonight, another grandmother is dying,

and I cannot heal her. But I line up

my idols like bruises on my belly

and perform a nostalgic ritual:

I shower with my clothes on

like I did as a girl with a man

who wanted to be my father,

when I became a little bird, helpless

to affection. Did he make me

a good monster or a bad one?

I can keep my cage clean,

wipe my mouth with my thumb.”

The book’s table of context reveals some of the poems’ intentions in titles such as: “People Who Don’t Understand Mental Illness,” “Seasonal Affective," “Another Poem About an Ex but Really It’s About Me,” “Monster is Good at Breakups,” and “I Buy My Monster Roses.”

If we dare judge a poetry book by its cover, the outside image of Good Monster solicits an emotional response. A toddler in pigtails and a white dress prepares to scale the cyclone fence separating her from speeding cars in the road. Mid-climb, she has turned her head as if caught and about to be reprimanded. Imagine the words that were said (probably yelled) in the moment, and the sizzle of emotions, full-range. That’s what you get in Good Monster, poems that dare to climb over a protective but failing fence.

Antigua’s debut collection, Ugly Music, won a 2020 Whiting Award and the Pamet River Prize. She is the youngest and the first person of color to hold the title of poet laureate of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Good Monster will bear the mark of Copper Canyon Press, a renowned nonprofit publisher known for their commitment to high-quality poetry collections that celebrate diverse voices and perspectives.