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Brute: Poems

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  1,451 ratings  ·  204 reviews
Selected by Joy Harjo as the winner of the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets

Emily Skaja's debut collection is a fiery, hypnotic book that confronts the dark questions and menacing silences around gender, sexuality, and violence. Brute arises, brave and furious, from the dissolution of a relationship, showing how such endings necessitate self-discovery and
Paperback, 72 pages
Published April 2nd 2019 by Graywolf Press
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Average rating 4.09  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,451 ratings  ·  204 reviews

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Oct 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
The poems in Emily Skaja’s Brute speak of brutality, of breaking, of endings, of beginnings. Brute is an elegy for a relationship’s end, an intimate excavation, but also, these poems are a rhapsody, a rage. Skaja’s poetry is deft, nimble, willing to inhabit contradictions— What is this impulse in me to worship & crucify/anyone who leaves me… Each poem is exquisitely crafted, visceral, indelible. Brute will cut right through you, cut deep, but the writing is so assured, so necessary that you will ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This powerful debut collection deserves multiple readings and I've read most of them out loud as well. The end of an unhealthy relationship comes with damage and these poems reflect all of it. Some reposition the narrative to defend the person who finally got out, some are confrontational, some speak to the shared experience many women have. When I marked favorites to share it was practically every poem but my two top poems are probably "Brute / Brute Heart" (read in Crab Orchard Review) and "No ...more
Apr 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was a powerful collection of poems about the rage and heartbreak of a relationship in which she gave her love and attention to someone who didn’t deserve it. The poems are often bleak yet fierce and display the conflicting emotions involved in loving someone who may not be the best for us. Strong, raw emotions here in this deeply engaging poetry collection.
Some poetry collections are difficult to form an opinion on not only because it feels like they push the boundary between the poet’s and the speaker’s life and experiences, but also because they focus on such universal themes that it’s difficult to engage with them in any way other than to filter the poetry through one’s own personal response and enjoyment of them. Brute is another new addition to this category and can probably best be summed up in a line from “Aubade with Boundaries”: “In an ar ...more
Aug 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
Third day of attempting to read a daily poetry collection and this one's another great one. Unfortunately the local library doesn't have a physical copy (I almost never buy books unless I've read them/loved them first: the problem with having a limited income and limited shelf-space - also I re-read all the things I love frequently enough that it's a system that usually makes sense) so I had to read this in e-format, which is not the best, but proved how strong the poems are, to be still an exce ...more
Jon Nakapalau
Jun 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, favorites
A garden of pain lit by blue moon - beautiful wounding.
Aug 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Painful but riveting poems about the end of a relationship/s. Also who we are within a relationship, especially women, but these poems stay personal. Beautiful bird imagery. Skaja is unsparing in her self-examination and in allowing her vulnerability show to the world while containing all of this in carefully constructed forms, with a wide variety of structures. There is also clearly a reason one of the sections is headed with a quote from a Sylvia Plath poem.

David J
May 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Everyone really should be on the lookout for Emily Skaja’s debut collection of poetry, Brute. Skaja ruminates on gender and violence, self-discovery and self-reinvention, agency and survival as she rises out of a tumultuous relationship. It’s Adele’s 21 in poetry form, and it’s just as emotionally satisfying as that album. She works through some tough shit and asks us to see this Brute in all of its forms. And as she works through her emotions, we see how debilitating it can be; but we also see ...more
Apr 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
4.75 stars

This was one of my most anticipated poetry books for 2019, and it did not disappoint. Perhaps most impressive is the cohesiveness of the collection, and its structure. It's a pet peeve of mine when poetry collections are broken up into sections that have no rhyme or reason, but here the section demarcations feel purposeful. Also, A+ choice of epigraphs for the section titles! I appreciated the frequent use of repetition, not just within individual poems but throughout the collection: t
sophie esther
Aug 05, 2022 rated it it was ok
Shelves: poetry
I liked the themes that Emily Skaja used in her poetry, pertaining to nature and femininity. However, I did find her poetry to be largely redundant, as I have found most collections of poetry by modern poets tend to be. Oftentimes, I have found that these poets focus on the events of their life and their empowerment in a way that comes off as self-important to the poetry itself. As in, the poem is about Emily Skaja for Emily Skaja and maybe her friends that helped her through the struggles. Her ...more
Jun 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, 2019, favorites
a girl handles grief and nature watches. i love it.
Apr 13, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: poety
This was beyond my capacity to consume. I will totally admit that it’s likely my inexperience or ineptitude but I found the content not digestible for me.
Book Riot Community
Emily Skaja’s debut poetry collection chronicles the end of an unhealthy relationship, the speaker a “Soldier for a lost cause, brute, mute woman / written out of my own story” (“Brute Strength”). Using striking metaphorical imagery (“I drop my hands in the sink. They come up feathered”) and allusions ranging from Eurydice to Rihanna, Skaja circles around themes of grief mingled with guilt, rage, and regret, all a part of the brutal process of reconstructing a life after such a breakup. Brute al ...more
Apr 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Easily one of the best poetry collections I’ve read in awhile that was of a non political theme
May 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
This is a collection of poems that contemplates a brutal breakup and will cause some visceral reactions. There is distinct imagery, and many of them recurring (cedar is the first that comes to mind), as well as references to myth and pop culture, demonstrating the complex emotions that inevitably come after the end of a relationship. There’s an honesty in Skaja’s poems that point out conflicting thoughts during this period, whether it’s longing to return to the relationship or a burning anger be ...more
emma charlton
Sep 01, 2022 rated it it was amazing
definitely on of the top 5 poetry collections I’ve ever read
Andrea Blythe
Nov 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Winner of the Walt Whitman Award, Emily Skaja's Brute is a stunning collection of poetry that navigates the dark corridors found at the end of an abusive relationship. “Everyone if we’re going to talk about love please we have to talk about violence,” writes Skaja in the poem “remarkable the litter of birds." She indeed talks about the intersections of both love and violence, evoking a range of emotional experiences ranging from sorrow and loss to rage, guilt, hope, self discovery, and reinventi ...more
Carolyn Klassen
Jun 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Not all the poems in Brute spoke to me, but when they did, it was with a fierceness that made me shiver. This is a collection of poetry that demands your respect and attention when reading. It's sharp, brutal, and emotional. If you're not careful, you may cut yourself on the edge of one of these selections.

Some poems leave you cold and sad while others are furious fire. The collection was violence and love lying side by side. It was the before, during, and after of a cruel, manipulative relatio
Chris Roberts
Mar 25, 2019 rated it did not like it
The Before Divorce

An archaic symbol passes for love,
fractious voices rise up and deny this
and those literally adored to the edge of madness still believe.

The After Divorce

Leave this world, my love,
bedlam devotion, slice-to-the-bone-motion,
bleed out...lovely and silken...a prostrate sculpture.


Chris Roberts, God Incremental
Feb 08, 2021 added it
Shelves: poetry
❝Mercury for once
cannot be blamed. My dishes float in soap like little planets.
I drop my hands in the sink. They come up feathered.❞

I don't like rating poetry books because I feel bad when I dont like them,, but I really loved this one, it's just so raw and emotional, so many parts stuck with me and the metaphors are awe-worthy
Alice Bianchi
Mar 28, 2022 rated it really liked it
"I filled my mouth with bees I tried to speak through the bees / Everyone if we're going to talk about love please we have to talk about violence". ...more
sofia aracelli
Jul 09, 2022 rated it it was ok
Shelves: poetry
some amazing, some good and others not so good. just like life i guess
Athena Lathos
Feb 07, 2022 rated it really liked it
I received this book as a gift and was immediately drawn to its unique and beautiful/unsettling cover. Many of these poems seem like variations on another or parts of one long poem in which the speaker invokes bones, blood, plants, and birds to express the depth of her grief and explore the remains of a relationship marked by abuse. 

There are some truly outstanding lines in this book, lines that I marked and will cherish for a long time. I also felt like I understood the overall emotional resona
May 30, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, adult
really loved how viscerally angry this one was - although not a full five stars because some of the poems fell a little flat for me, overall i enjoyed it a lot!

four hawks

circle the same mile of indiana where i force myself to look

at every dead deer on the road, as if that braces me, as if i believe
it will protect me from losing anything good.

i can't stop dreaming i'm hiding

my own prints in the snow, convinced
my mouth is a metal trap, a part of it, apart

from you, & when you pull me awake
it's be
Scott Pomfret
Lurking throughout this collection is a much resented male former, who comes to dominate every page. This is therapy, not poetry. The layouts of the poems seemed arbitrary rather than artful. I struggled to understand the purpose of the line breaks or use of space. That said, there is an occasional gem, including a poem titled "No, I Do Not Want to Connect with You on LinkedIn." ...more
Karen Patrick
Mar 02, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 4-stars-good, poetry
Emily Skaja is a poet. And she is also a survivor.

I don't usually throw those words around lightly. Anyone with an Instagram account can be a modern poet these days but this poetry collection got under my skin. Her words are haunting, raw, wrapped in rage and salt, hurt dripping from her ragged corners and then the slow process of showing her wounds healing, cut open by memories, healing again. Her poetry makes me sit up and pay attention. She is from rural Illinois so the poems felt very rusti
Mar 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I know in this system I am not blameless.
I used to promise myself
that when we broke up I would tell him
I love you. I thought of it as a punishment.
I dreamed I let him look for me in the woods.
I stayed perfectly quiet. I was covered in rough scales
& my eyelashes dropped burrs when I blinked.
In the dirt below I watched him search for me.
He said Is it enough that I want to be different.
Maple seeds spun out from my hair.

This was such an incredible collection. Often I find that in a collection t
Rachel Jorquera
Sep 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Wow. What a haunting, raw, and visceral book. Skaja's book BRUTE is violent and brutal and representative of the ending of a relationship. Even though it may be rough, her words wind a tenderness around them when needed, and cut sharp on other parts.

It is a conversation to the self and for the self, of the wounds that were opened time and time again.

These poems feel intimate. They allow the reader to open themselves along with the narrator and feel the words in a way that I have never physical
Apr 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
I would have given this 3.5 stars but I gave it the benefit of 4 because of the writing. The writing was exquisite and well-crafted. Having grown up in the Midwest near where the poet is from, I loved the references to places, animals, and nature that have surrounded me my entire life.

What I wished for this book were themes that reached a little deeper. Many of the poems were around a breakup, loss, violence in a relationship, coming to terms with being alone. I have read those themes, over and
Philip Kenner
May 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Emily Skaja’s poems are lyrical, visceral, angry, funny, and full of fluid. The personal weaves in-between the dark pastoral. Skaja’s proverbial river soaks into every page, leaving the reader with the feeling of being cleansed with mud, made dirty and clean all at once.

Skaja repeats images and motifs (blood, human to bird metamorphosis, mud), and while the cohesive nature of the book as a whole is something to be celebrated, the poems can feel like they repeat themselves a little too often. Ov
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Emily Skaja was born and raised in rural Illinois. She holds an MFA from Purdue University and a PhD from the University of Cincinnati. Her poems have appeared in Best New Poets, Blackbird, Crazyhorse, FIELD, and Gulf Coast, among other journals. She is the winner of the Gulf Coast Poetry Prize, an AWP Intro Journals Award, and an Academy of American Poets college prize. She lives in Memphis.

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“We're almost a whole shadow now from far away.” 6 likes
“Done with the whole dark
& the insect dirge
under blue lit lamps.
Done trying to remember

June, first stars & August
when I was Penelope
when I was Eurydice
when July was missing

& I was my own dull shade.”
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