Soft in the Middle is a self-published collection of poems coming in at 153 pages. This collection was brought to my attention because the author, Shelby Eileen, writes about fatness. While I appreciate the recommendation, there were maybe two poems that are about fatness, and the rest were about love and heartbreak.
Overall, this poetry collection is not for me. Eileen writes from those deep feelings after break ups that plague all twenty-somethings, myself included when I was that age. She asks those familiar questions: Am I anything without [other person]? Will I ever get over [other person]? Is it ever going to stop hurting? My whole entire world was [other person]. Thus, the target audience appears to be girls ages 14-22. If you enjoy the following poem, you’ll love this collection:
I can't look at beautiful things
because every beautiful thing
reminds me of you.
While I get the sentiment, it’s tedious to read 157 pages of the same thing written in a juvenile fashion. There is no attention to consonance, assonance, alliteration, and little paid to metaphor or imagery — all things that make poetry pleasing to hear and read.
The really aggravating part of twenty-something break-up poetry is how much weight is given to [other person]. Eileen gets lost in her own works, and instead readers come away knowing more about [other person]. Most poems begin with “I” but quickly pivot to “you.” More than anything, Eileen’s poems read like a young adult’s diary that needed some hard feedback from peers.
When I taught creative writing, my students were not forbidden from writing about love and break ups, but they had to do so in a way that paid attention to the needs and expectations of a reader of poetry. I told them the same thing I would tell Shelby Eileen: just because you write, that doesn’t mean it’s for an audience. If you want to write for an audience, you have to care about their stake in the work. Otherwise, your best reader will just be your mom. It all depends on your goals, but publishing a work tells me Eileen wanted more readership that her family.