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Emergency Brake

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2015 Wrolstad Contemporary Poetry Series selection

"Ruth Madievsky's first collection is an announcement like a bomb going off, like a super wave coming to swallow us up! For my part I am thrilled to be taken away by such energetic, funny, and heartbreaking work. This is a new voice made of sunlight, knives, emergencies, heat, honesty, bottles of vodka, and a tanker full of talent. Madievsky has created something we should not go without."
- Matthew Dickman

"Go ahead, try all you want pulling on Ruth Madievsky’s Emergency Brake—but just remember it won’t do you any good. This will be the most exciting and inventive first book you have read in years, and this poet’s take-no-prisoners attitude makes for an ecstatic joyride. These deeply moving poems reflect the raw darkness paring at the edges of our lives, and they reveal how that dark can sometimes move to the very centers of our being. Sexy, irreverent, sorrowful, thrilling—the poems of Emergency Brake become a young woman’s survival manual for the Twenty-First Century: ignore it at your own peril."
- David St. John

"...a metaphor-maker par excellence"

"The social importance of Emergency Brake doesn’t come at the cost of artful finesse; a cleverly engineered speaker who invites distrust through sly direction guides us through the collection’s gallery of sex and Los Angeles sprawl..."
- Columbia Journal

"Emergency Brake is filled with boxcar after boxcar of metaphors you’ll wish you wrote, but Madievsky got to them first. You’ll want to hate her if it wasn’t for that sugary child jumping up and down behind your ribs, yelling, 'Do it again! Do it again!'”
- Harpur Palate

80 pages, Paperback

Published February 14, 2016

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About the author

Ruth Madievsky

5 books118 followers
Ruth Madievsky is the author of a novel, "All-Night Pharmacy" (Catapult, 2023) and a bestselling poetry collection, "Emergency Brake." Her work appears in The Atlantic, The Los Angeles Times, Harper's Bazaar, Tin House, Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, Them, and elsewhere. She is originally from Moldova and lives in Los Angeles, where she works as an HIV and primary care pharmacist.

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5 stars
83 (59%)
4 stars
39 (28%)
3 stars
14 (10%)
2 stars
3 (2%)
1 star
0 (0%)
Displaying 1 - 23 of 23 reviews
Profile Image for Ruth.
Author 5 books118 followers
February 18, 2020
In the words of Jami Attenberg: "Please forgive me while I give my own book five stars but if one does not believe their own book deserves five stars then why bother writing." I published "Emergency Brake" 4 years ago and still feel proud to share it. Thanks to all who have read, shared, and taught my poems <3
Profile Image for Alex Johnson.
384 reviews1 follower
Shelved as 'dnf'
March 5, 2020
It's a matter of personal preference: I don't love the "scattershot" poems that wind from topic to topic and don't seem to land everywhere. No thanks.
Profile Image for John Taylor.
Author 2 books26 followers
May 2, 2020
What a stunning collection. Haunting and light, humorous and cutting. The kind of poems that rattle around in your skull long after you shelve the book.
Profile Image for Kawai.
Author 5 books599 followers
April 27, 2016
Unstable relationships, disaffection with a modern (urban) lifestyle, and mortality: those seem to be the primary focus of EMERGENCY BRAKE. Madievsky plumbs her themes fiercely, and the poems delivered resonated with me across almost the entirety of the collection--a rarity for poetry collections I've read. There are probably a variety of reasons for my reaction, not all of which I understand, but if I had to guess it would be because of her restrained style: It's prose poetry that finds the middle ground between poetry and prose, not fully eschewing either (my favorite style, as a reader); she's also taken care to craft pointed metaphors to explain feelings, and since the metaphors worked well for me, it was just one more reason to love the work. And because her subject matter, although approached from the personal, is accessible for the average reader (rather than abstraction or philosophical underpinnings that take unbearable effort to dig up), the poems were relatable and ultimately moving.

If there's any weakness in the collection, it's that Madievsky's thematic focus feels so narrow that, at times, the poems seem to retrace ground already covered. But, given how well she does it, there's nothing wrong with experiencing *nearly* identical thoughts multiple times, at least not for this reader.

On the whole, a very strong collection from a poet who (I'm guessing) is just getting started. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Anatoly Molotkov.
Author 2 books25 followers
January 2, 2017
"When I remember the past as burglary,
I think the body is a door, and what is a door
But a crime scene waiting to happen,
The way a needle waits to happen to a vein."

In her imaginative collection, Ruth Madievsky utilizes the imagery of everyday - dirty, charged, sometimes mundane - to develop her own brand of body-centered ontology.
Profile Image for Leah.
23 reviews3 followers
May 11, 2016
A voice that lodges in the head. Metaphors stacked and stacked. No object too insignificant to be compared to the tension of this life. A fresh nest of images. I've been following Madievsky's journal publications for the last year and it was a thrill to see this first book live up to their energy.
Profile Image for Christy Baker.
391 reviews13 followers
August 12, 2019
Emergency Brake is a hard book to rate as it felt inconsistent to me. I loved the originality of metaphors used; it is, in truth, one of the most original and unusual books of poetry I've read in a long time in terms of its' turns of phrasing and play of words, drawing heavily on the author's immersion into the medical research field of study. At times, some of the poems shined with a brilliant stream of word pictures while others just felt a bit of a jumble of words that didn't quite fit and got all tossed together. Moreover, and to be fair as I almost rated this a four star, I found that there was a underlying repetition of them of sexual abuse/assault that I found triggering and it wasn't just about poems where that was a main feature, but it was a clear underlying element in so many of the poems. It felt like life: random comments from boss or guy at a party, touch unwelcome, touch remembered from long ago. Honestly, it felt like it should come with a trigger warning label. Beyond that, it was real and honest and both tragic in terms of the sexual abuse and silencing of young people about such, but also celebratory anyway of sex and expression and embracing.

Like I said, a really hard one for me to rate and I'm not sure I can be objective. For me, overall, the high creativity makes it a four, the inconsistency and personal punch to it dropped it to a three.
Profile Image for Evan.
Author 12 books15 followers
June 24, 2019
"In Los Angeles, someone's replaced
all the oxygen with surgical grade stainless steel,
someone's tagged all the freeway overpasses
and I can't tell if they wrote HELEN
or HELP. Everyone I love is trying
to shine me like a flashlight,
everyone I love is telling me
to say ahh. In my backyard, forty ants
are sharing a slice of watermelon,
and I don't know why that makes me feel
lonely, why I wish I was their size
and with them, fighting for the juiciest piece
with everyone I love
or just letting them have it."
Profile Image for Patricia Murphy.
Author 3 books107 followers
January 27, 2020

So many poems here use fascinating imagery to build a house of existential pain. I truly appreciate the communication of this pain. I wish I got a better understanding of where the pain comes from.

people turn back into objects

If I throw enough lamps will you come.

When I open, I want to be the umbrella
not the pocket knife.

Something inside me
scattering like deer.

sing your aria, little man.

all my life
I've been a charley horse in the thigh of some god.
Profile Image for Ruth.
Author 3 books2 followers
June 12, 2018
Madievsky's poems take a gritty, urban landscape (both literal and figurative) and imbue it with beauty without sanitizing pain and brokenness. While the poems are carefully crafted, they come across as voice-driven, immediate, as if you've popped into the page to listen to a friend recounting her experiences, slicing them open for you, plumbing them for meaning. It's all very ugly beautiful.
105 reviews5 followers
January 18, 2019
Will revisit when I’m a more mature poetry reader ~ a lotta oh I get it I get I get it nope I don’t get it

@jen if you go premed and write poetry this is what I envision

But thank you Ms. G for lending me this, hopefully I’ll read something this year worth lending back

Some favorites (maybe the few I felt confidently cognizant??):
BRIDGE, SHADOW, HAND (for those 3 lines)

Profile Image for Mal Duffy.
5 reviews
March 14, 2017
Wonderful collection. Ruth has a flawless ear and self awareness that allows her to observe and undermine herself at the same time, while displaying a wide sense of humor. Made me rethink relationships. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Megan Alyse.
Author 4 books11 followers
September 26, 2019
Raw and fucking real. And I don’t say raw in the way hipsters who read Bukowski say “raw”. I mean, this girl writes from her guts.
Profile Image for Kendall.
Author 34 books23 followers
November 23, 2019
It would be hard to find a finer debut. Madievsky's work is striking and powerful.
Profile Image for Vincent Scarpa.
568 reviews155 followers
October 2, 2016
I purchased this collection after falling in love with Madievsky's poem "Electrons" on poem-a-day (https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/e...) and it delivers the goods that poem promised. I especially appreciate the way Madievsky manipulates the language of medicine and pharmaceuticals, mining that jargon to render something exquisite and precise and new.

“I spend most days hoping for release
and not knowing from what.”- “Mountain”
Profile Image for Robin.
791 reviews3 followers
December 4, 2016
At first glance, this is a type of collection I'd shrug at and then walk away from, but the more I think about it, the more it sticks and the more I enjoy it. The true barrage of images thrown at the reader might seem odd at first, but it builds momentum and strength as the collection carries on, and it helps to demonstrate the anxiety and fear within these situations. Beyond just the surface level of these poems, this collection is truly unsettling - but in the best of ways.
Displaying 1 - 23 of 23 reviews

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