First-time author Veronica Eley is based in Dartmouth.

Veronica Eley's Blue Dragonfly spreads its wings

The best poetry book of the year is from a 71-year-old debut writer on healing from trauma.

Veronica Eley didn’t set out to write the best poetry book of the year. She didn’t intend to pen lines so sharp they’d lacerate on impact, or lob pastel bombs of repressed feeling, exploding onto the page.

But that’s exactly what the 71-year-old debut author did—even if her only aim was to feel better.

“My understanding of myself deepened through the transformative role poetry played in my healing,” Eley says in her author’s note of the newly released The Blue Dragonfly: healing through poetry. “I became for the first time in my life a fully integrated person.”

What began as a therapy journal to process trauma has been transformed into a three-part collection of poems on mental illness, childhood abuse and hard-won healing—tracing a redemptive arc of hope that never feels saccharine across 187 pages.

Sometimes the pain of The Blue Dragonfly: healing through poetry is the feeling of when you cut your fingernails too short: A tenderness touching everything as Eley recalls lonely childhood tea parties and the small solace of worn-out teddy bears. Other times, pain feels more like clutching a lilac-hued molotov cocktail: Blunt prose leading to breaks in poems that level like staccato shrapnel. (“holding an ice pick/hearing it chip away at my spirit/disarmed,” erupts the small poem “after talking to Dr.G.”)

In either case, a woozy blend of soft alluding and frank recollection remains, leaving the reader as unsteady in a sea of memory over which Eley has long played Captain Ahab.

The book’s epigraph quotes OG sadcore queen Emily Dickinson: “If any ask me why/’Twere easier to die/Than tell.” Here, Eley provides a compass to the coming pages, the processing of trauma that felt like it’ll kill her. She also highlights the influence of America’s greatest woman poet she bears: Both Dickinson and Eley use poetry as a gossamer gown, twisting sheer skirts of verse to conceal and reveal as they make sense of their lives. Both women stiffen from fame, with Dickinson famously keeping thousands of poems unpublished in a drawer and Eley declining any media requests: “She wrote for one reader (herself) and shared some of what she wrote with a few others, notably her psychiatrist. He used the poetry to make progress in her therapy. Then she put the poetry away,” her editor explained to me in an email. “But she is cautiously pleased that the book is so far being well received.”

It is easier to die than tell, but Eley’s prose is a beautiful, biting reminder that while living and healing are hard, they’re worth it—and art can make holding onto both possible.

About The Author

Morgan Mullin

Morgan is the Arts & Entertainment Editor at The Coast, where she writes about everything from what to see and do around Halifax to profiles of the city’s creative class to larger cultural pieces. She’s been with The Coast since 2016.

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