Erin’s table of contents is titled “directions” and features a subway map in the margins, setting the stage for a collection that channels New York City, as in “Sinatra Pours,”: “In old New York the rain // resembles how I would imagine it feels // to kiss you.”. Extravagant as the city that anchor’s the poet’s identity, Erin’s mainly free verse poetry is perhaps overly abundant with alliteration and mixed metaphors, and her form choices, which include irregular indentations, line breaks, and spacing, lend a degree of theatricality to the reading experience. Some poems possess refreshing moments of clarity that examine the role of self-image in the experience of womanhood.
“Face Paint” and “Mirror Mirror on the Wall” both explore the poet’s observation of her beloved’s perception of her physical appearance, which is fraught with silent critique and self-hatred. As she watches the woman she loves put on makeup, the speaker notes “what I see is a stunning work of art, // and I’m afraid that you only see the paint.” It is in these poems that Erin’s collection is most engaging, but for some readers in love with love and New York Erin’s verses will resonate.
Takeaway: Sprawling poems of queer, unrequited love and New York City.
Comparable Titles: Ellen Bass, Julie R. Enszer’s Milk and Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A-
Behind Her City Eyes: Poems by Sarah Erin is a compilation of poems about a complicated but loving relationship. No emotion releases a plethora of emotions the way love does. Sarah Erin succinctly captures all these in beautiful waves as soft or as rampant as the waves of life. It is for readers who understand and can become engrossed in highly emotive prose. There are twenty-one beautifully crafted poems. Erin provides a sweet roadmap that acts as the contents page. Erin takes the reader on a journey starting from face painting with makeup and the implications of it. Erin communicates the power of conversations over the telephone and the meaning of sincere communication. Overall, the poems show the pain and conflict attributed to being in love.
Erin is a skilled writer and poet. She demonstrates her skills in these well-written poems. Some are sad and reminiscent and show a deep longing. Others show boiling-over-hot anger and frustration. The pattern is beautiful. Each verse has a playful, energetic, and vibrant structure. The layout makes the poems immensely entertaining. Through the variations in intelligent and well-thought-through sentences and line layout, Erin expresses a plethora of poignant thoughts. I thoroughly enjoyed this intricate and unique poetry. My favorite poems were Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, and To the Woman from Long Island. The former poem embodies the spirit and yearning that resonates throughout the book. I would recommend it to any romantic-hearted and drama-loving reader. Behind Her City Eyes by Sarah Erin is beautiful beyond words.
Behind Her City Eyes is a moving collection of LGBTQ+ poems that dive headfirst into the various facets of love: romantic, unrequited, plutonic, long-distance, and the struggle to love oneself. A warm glow of nostalgia cloaks Sarah Erin’s vignettes, which she navigates through the streets, sights, smells, and sounds of New York in a wonderfully evocative fashion.
Structurally, Erin cleverly plays around with the conventions of traditional verse, her stanzas frequently slaloming across the page. But this isn’t a mere aesthetical choice, and each poem’s formation is deliberately composed, such as the fragmented structure of ‘Choreographed Conversation’, which mirrors the difficulties of maintaining a long-distance friendship.
Despite Erin’s tinkering, each poem retains a delightfully rhythmic quality, and she is like a puppet master, the tempo undulating and bending to the will of her words. She consciously attempts to emphasise particular words or phrases, magnifying their emotional impact, a technique she uses to potent effect on ‘Dancing in Manhattan’, where entire words are elongated or even stretched across whole verses in a contrived ploy to enthral you in the speaker’s passions.
Poems such as ‘Dancing in Manhattan’ and ‘Sometimes’ capture love’s dizzying, intoxicating nature in thrilling fashion. However, arguably, Erin’s strongest moments are when she hones in on self-love, and especially the despair that comes from watching the people you love struggle to see the beauty that enraptures you, an essence perfectly captured in the final lines of ‘Face Paint’: “Because what I see is a stunning work of art, and I’m afraid you only see the paint.”
‘Mirror, Mirror on the Wall’ is an undoubted highlight, a poignant and powerful exploration of the constant struggles faced by women in a world of continual superficial judgement. Erin’s examination of the crippling doubts that a mere reflection can provoke will resonate with many, especially female readers, and her passionate bolstering of the woman she loves is both beautiful and heartbreaking.
Throughout, Erin’s wordplay is dexterous and imaginative, and very rarely does it drift into cliched territory, a common pitfall of poetry centred around love. A conversationally poetic tone lingers throughout, with words seemingly plucked naturally from her thoughts, delivered in an unfiltered manner that enhances their emotional weight.
A vivid journey through love’s many tunnels that, despite its personal nature, expresses sentiments that are impossible not to engage with, Behind Her City Eyes is a vibrant exploration of the fragility of love.
"Sarah turned the page into a blank canvas, dipped the brush in your heart, and painted such a beautiful landscape for readers to explore and marvel at. The raw vulnerability tapped into and shared in these pages really grips at the tear ducts. A perfect blend of imagery and metaphors culminates in feeling transported to these memories and moments as if a time traveling fly on the wall. This was truly an incredible read."
"Sarah is one of the rare poets who can capture the commonly known magic of love, translate it to the written word, and create something fresh and new. Behind Her City Eyes takes readers to a place both familiar and unexplored, yet comforting and exhilarating."
Behind Her City Eyes was selected as a 2023 International Book Awards finalist in Contemporary Poetry.