Review by Sandra Feen: Unknowable Things by Kerry Trautman









Unknowable Things is an evocative language feast where sensory imagery is omnipresent.

We see this throughout Kerry Trautman’s masterful collection, from the accessible first lines of her opening poem, “Drop,” He closed the screen door, stepped/into rain that smelled like worms to the engaging first lines of her concluding poem, “Marblehead:”

The lighthouse lamp is dark,

     and the caretaker’s shack – their insides locked,

     shattered from thunder, mayflies,

     and the always, always




Readers are equally challenged and routed to the layers of their own psyche, experiencing deeply universal conflicts through Trautman’s poetry where language is so deft the harsh and difficult seem almost casual and effortless. In the poem “Pretty,” Pretty is not just pretty, but beautiful pathos … the day she wore her hair in a high high ponytail… hung beside her… boys cat-called toward her face in the shut bus window, made sex gestures, flicked their tonguesShe knew she was supposed to be shocked, pissed, roll her eyes, pretend she didn’t see them, but it was her first taste of pretty.


Trautman continues to navigate readers through more complex realms of interacting with each other, and readers comply, so engrossing is her poetry. The poem “Stray” begins Was it cruel to have lured the stray cat/ these weeks closer to my fingertips, /to teach him petting? The poem isn’t only about daring to touch a stray feline. It explores what happens when the speaker asked the older boy’s sister for his number, and she cautions that he’s sometimes not nice to girls. Trautman connects all entities with her second stanza: It was a new thing—involuntary/ joy on skin terms./ Fur can’t help that it’s reached-for.


Trautman spares no one. She directs readers to feel a conglomeration of life experiences and limitations, revealing that sometimes limitations are not readily evident or ever understood. Sometimes they thrash into our presence as in the sudden loss of a dog in a very unexpected fashion. In stanza ten of “Driving Lesson” No one wants to close a door and/ walk away knowing it will never/open again. Except when they do.


In her poem “Withholding,” she further apprises readers that Sometimes two beings are bridged only by air carrying/ the scent of browning butter. Some bodies coexist,/ appreciating, simmering from safe distance, like a dare.


All is not dark or lost in Unknowable Things. Quite the contrary. Certainly, a hopeful acceptance flickers in the final lines of the collection’s concluding poem, “Marblehead:”

…I would plant a peach orchard,

stitch a kite, allow constant wind and gulls to weave

through my clapboards, gust me

with wet sand and walleye, and wait for

the light to be restored


Unknowable Things is a gutsy balance of both tender and harrowing moments with resilience as its impetus.


Sandra Feen

2022-2024 Ohio Beat Poet Laureate

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