Review of Instinct to Ruin

CW: Abuse, assault (sexual), suicide


Nice girl. What happened to her?

Killed her. Cursed her.
Pushed her aside and cared for poetry.
Gave in and grew into something scalier, hungrier.

—Lora Mathis, "The Self-Portrait," Instinct to Ruin


Lora Mathis' second full-length volume is a bold exploration of trauma, mental illness, and femininity. In Instinct to Ruin, they discuss their experiences with rape and domestic abuse, depression, and gender, sparing their audience no comfort. The visceral nature of the poems is refreshing, yet jarring, in its brutal honesty. What is often considered taboo becomes second nature, and any presumed etiquette or politics of writing are foregone. These poems are not beautiful: these poems are the makings of a soul, wrung out. They are the fruits of self-exploration, of reconstruction—of having taken control of one's identity and fashioned themselves into a weapon.

One poem, "High Water," evokes emotion and imagery like Kate Chopin's The Awakening:

& the wave is pouring under the door
& I lick my plate clean
& the tips of my hair are dripping down my chest & I
swear the sea is shaking with laughter & water rises
above my head
I do not hold my breath

This piece, a striking commentary on the struggles inherent to femininity, makes a neat package of all of Instinct's themes. It is at once a chronicle of abuse, oppression, and suicidal ideation, as well as a resounding testament to feminine resilience. The drowning metaphor is bleak, naturally, but many—particularly within Monstering's demographic—would argue there's an undeniable degree of empowerment in choosing one's own fate, whatever the case may be. The poem ends there, but the stories it and its sisters could tell are innumerable. Likewise, the individuals this book may grant a voice should not go unmentioned. In sharing their story, Mathis recounts the experiences of many.

In their own words, Lora Mathis is a Cancer from Southern California who believes in poetry's healing ability and the power of friendship. They coined the term "radical softness as a weapon," an idea centered around the strength in sharing oneself honestly. Much of their work focuses on trauma, femininity, and combating mental illness stigma. They are the author of chapbooks and the noise does not stop... and Bigger Bolder Less Pathetic. This is their second full-length collection of poems; their first is available through Where Are You Press. They currently live in Philadelphia.