Beauty Through Pain – Review of A.M. Aylward’s “Displaced Egos”

When personal pain can be transformed into beautiful work, that is my definition of “art”. The collection of poems found in “Displaced Egos” by A.M. Aylward carries the writer’s pain simultaneously like a thick overcoat but underneath that coat is poignancy, grace and reclaimed power. Poetry, as an artform, is deeply personal and in many ways, it can offer a better avenue for self-reflection, self-actualization, and catharsis.

For the sake of transparency, I must state that I know the author of this work. We’ve been friendly for the better part of a decade and some change. With that being said, I approached their book with the same eye for honest reviewing that I bring to any work. If I had not enjoyed their work as much as I did, I would not be posting a review of it. This collection can easily be read in an afternoon and it’s one that I would suggest reading out loud rather than silently. Poetry is meant to be spoken as much as it is meant to be read. Aylward’s gift is that their poetry resonates most clearly when the poems are read aloud.

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There is something wonderful to be found in each of the poems in this collection. One example would be the line from the poem “Ego Trips”:

Even those who grok

are drowning

in lonely bogs

A.M. Aylward, from the poem “Ego Trips”

For someone like myself who has read “Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert Heinlein, any chance to see “grok” (basically the Martian word for understanding fully and completely) in a poem or story stokes the little sci-fi nerd in my brain.

An equally revealing line from the poem “Narrative” shows the constraints of the speaker’s mind as they try to develop an outward persona for the world to see:

I made a cliché of myself

a caricature of self-awareness

I found myself bound in an

hermetically sealed suit of

laws and control, venting only in

moments of lust

A.M. Aylward, from the poem “Narrative”

Such tight controls over one’s innermost being eventually find an outlet but often not in a constructive way.

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“Poem #240” uses single word lines for a staccato rhythm, as if the speaker of the poem is spitting the words onto the page rather than forming complete sentences. Only toward the end of the poem do the lines grow in length, with the first being:

This Liberated Woman

Twenty-first century feminist

Twenty-first century doormat

has no voice

no story-

Hers was stolen

tainted

f**ked

A.M. Aylward, from the poem “Poem #240”

It is a direct, accusatory poem, one that I imagine would ring true for many women who’ve grown up in the 21st century.

For someone who deals with depression on a frequent basis, the poems “Survival” and “I Lie to My Doctor” ring stronger than pretty much all of the other poems. From “Survival” comes this wonderful stanza:

I’m so tired of dragging

this meat suit from bed

to face a world

unforgiving as my mind

A.M. Aylward, from the poem “Survival”

Which is a feeling I have experienced more times than I would ever be capable of counting. And in “I Lie to My Doctor”, the opening stanza struck me as I read it, having been through something similar when I was seeing a psychiatrist in my youth:

I lie to my doctor

because suicidal ideation never leaves

it is insidious and embedded in me

a dry rot slipping through me

a termite chipping at my grain

A.M. Aylward, from the poem “I Lie to My Doctor”

Anyone who has had to deal with suicidal thoughts knows the routine of speaking with their doctor and Aylward paints the portrait of suicidal ideation for what it is, a rot inside the mind that never truly leaves.

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Poems like “Fetish Doll” and “So, You Want to Date Me” scream at the perceptions of outsiders who expect certain behaviors and roles to be assumed when romance and/or sex are involved. “Fetish Doll” strikes me strongly because of the inner struggle people will take on the decorations of their partners assumptions, desires, fetishes, and kinks without the partner considering what the speaker’s desires and thoughts are on the same subjects. “So, You Want to Date Me” draws you in as the speaker lays out all of the things that a person should consider when attempting to date them, including the frail, human parts that no one reads about or watches when they consume romance entertainment. It lays bare the speaker in raw, visceral terms that are engaging and captivating.

Couple the above two poems with “Pretty Girl Problems” and Aylward paints a caustic portrait of a speaker living inside a body that should have been seen as a gift from the generations that preceded them but instead became a curse.

I was gifted this body

I asked for a uterus

the way I asked for my cheekbones

the way I asked for the leers

the way I asked to smell wolves

from across a bar

from across a game site

from across a chat room

A.M. Aylward, from the poem “Pretty Girl Problems”

The above stanza should resonate with any person who has had to stomach the unwanted attention of others purely based on physical appearance.

Whomever coined the phrase “words can never hurt me” did not truly understand the power of language. Words are what give us the ability to process our thoughts, give names to people, places, things, emotions, and pain. A.M. Aylward’s grasp of words and the connections they form is painful and exquisite. If you are looking for raw, honest poetry that can make you feel something, I strongly recommend this debut collection.  

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