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Book Review: 
For Today

Review by: A. R. Arthur

For Today by Carolyn Hembree is a cacophonous collection of poetry that strikes many emotive chords within the reader. Something rather distinct about For Today is its highly inclusive nature between the reader and poet, the narrator and the listener. Naturally, poems are meant to be read, but Hembree’s words read as if the have been passed down through arcane oral tradition that transcends generations and worlds. With the narrator taking an active role at all times, the reader is tasked with absorbing the inherently sonorous nature of these poems and their delicate, thoughtful and targeted word economy. The use of nonce forms affirms the great deal of time spent forming such a unique and personal narrative.


Set in the American Gulf South and split into four sections, the core narrative is centered on becoming a mother shortly after experiencing the exit of a father. This contrast highlights the sparkling duality of this collection in that Hembree is unafraid of delving deep into the darkness whilst still fighting for the emerging light. An abundance of poignant juxtaposition keeps the reader thinking and questioning from the very start of this collection.

"Less of, less often, I see you still, free head—

now gourd in wind, now bauble by crib light

my baby, arm through scalloped sleeve, feels for.

O figure of speechless. Rendered up. What’s taken,

what’s taken in—"

Hembree’s skill in shaping her craft elevates, and works alongside, the emotions of the reader as they go through For Today. Ultimately affirming her innate strength of craft. These shifts in relation to emotion are evident consistently and early on between the first few poems which set the tone for her stylistic choices at large. The sustained use of first-person singular also adds its own depth in terms of the gravitas these poems hold.

"Your mother’s starting to cry. Let me go on
with you, my lines, our steins, red pens in hand.
How is it, Dad? Cut and bleeding, Daughter.
Your voice, wisdom you’d give by rote—Rilke,
gospels, one-liners, a gun poem composed decades
before to keep from offing yourself—now gone
or going. We’d go on until Mother, slipping
into her cool bath, her baby voice, cried, Earle."


Revelations a plenty begin to emerge as this narrative progresses and the challenges of the narrator come to the fore. With an emphasis on grief and rage alongside contrasting love and fear, Hembree’s words become a battle cry for a community vulnerable to the climate destruction and change so sacrosanct with the decay of the 21st century.


[PSA] Street Flooding. Neutral Ground Parking.

"Pregnant beggar with a sign

Where did she sleep last night?


On the neutral ground, more signs

Evacuation Route School Zone

Look Both Ways


On the neutral ground, ghost bikes [recurrent dream]"


Hembree’s ruminations on, and conversations with, the dead, the living and the natural world reflects the fleeting nature of time that each of us will come to know with age, with the suffering of existence as others return to the ether. These reflections and discussions allow the reader to reflect very much on their own progression, their own acceptance of finality no matter current vitality.


"And I forgot

Fresh flowers for his grave (name misspelled above dates)

hundreds of miles away, red dirt mound grown over

Every deathday: “What would you like on the card, Ma’am?”

Every deathday: “Who will read it?”



Perhaps it is in the acceptance of the narrator’s own finite nature, own ‘perishability’ that we can find solace in our own lives in this transient existence taxing and marvelous. With heart-wrenching boldness and a tenacious narrative, Hembree must be commended for her timeless words. I sincerely believe this should be on your 2024 reading list and beyond.

Buy For Today

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