Review of unalone by Jessica Jacobs

unalone cover
Jessica Jacobs
Four Way Books, 2024, 210 pages

Reviewed by Sisel Gelman

unalone by Jessica Jacobs is a poetry collection about longing—a deep, profound longing for the meaning, guidance, and connection found in the intersection between the physical and the spiritual worlds. Jacobs takes the twelve parshiyot (portions) of Genesis and revives the Old Testament with a refreshing series of personal stories and reflections that highlight the timelessness of our shared humanity across time and space with an emphasis on the contemporary now.

Throughout the text, Jacobs presents the urgency of the physical world with grace and vulnerability. Jacobs relates the lessons of the Bible to her upbringing, to her mother, to the love she has for her wife, and to the mundanity of life. The effect is magnetic, as the personal references trail into the sphere of myth themselves. Her personal stories become just as important and relatable as the stories of the Bible, maybe even more so. We see our own lives reflected in them. Jacobs also does not shy away from the topic of misogyny and racism in our day and age. The poignant references to injustice, mass shootings, and acts of overt antisemitism call upon the reader to reflect on the brokenness of the world and how it can begin to be healed. This is, once again, a world we recognize with our own eyes.

Jacobs embraces the magnitude of Genesis in her storytelling. She acknowledges how these stories feel larger than life and incorporates this grand tone and perspective into her literary style. Jacobs drops the audience right into the middle of biblical scenes so that they can experience the huge moments firsthand with all of their joys, stressors, and questions. The experience is made new again through a distinctive empathic lens. Jacobs asks herself how the underrepresented and silenced women of the Old Testament felt. She asks, “What was their perspective like?” It’s beautiful and touching to see these women gain a voice as Jacobs experiments with her own through unusual line placement and enjambment.

When I asked Jacobs why it’s important to talk about the intersection of queerness and feminism in terms of religion, she responded with the following: “Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers, advises us to place a fence around the Torah. This is a means of guarding it, of making its teachings and traditions sacred (a word that literally means to set apart). But as I explore in unalone’s first poem, “Stepping through the gate,” such fences can often be barriers, keeping people out—a fact especially true for women and perhaps even more so for queer folks. So many of us were raised to believe that there wasn’t a real place for us in religion, except perhaps as mothers and helpmeets to men. Scholars and poets like Alicia Ostriker and Eleanor Wilner showed us how we can take these stories back, look into the holes in the text, to all the women's stories written there in invisible ink, and bring them out into the light. And as a queer woman, it feels important that I permitted myself to also see my own experiences reflected in these stories, as I hope it might also help others find their way back into traditions that are theirs if they want them.”

One of my favorite poems in the collection is titled “Creation Stories,” and it evokes the desire Adam and Eve had for each other. In the poem, there is a longing to be complete—to be larger than the sum of individual parts. Through the metaphor of human companionship, we peek at the urge to be reunited with a divine fullness that is telling of Jacobs’s intuitive inclination towards the holy. This poetry collection insists there is something powerful and elevated in the spiritual realm, and through study and reflection, we might attain a fraction of it. This fraction will guide and heal us. It will bring us closer to the meaning we seek in such a chaotic world. Love will save us: the love we have for each other, for ourselves, our traditions, our history, and the sacred.

Sisel Gelman was raised in Mexico City and moved to Alaska to write her first novel. Her writing has been nominated for two EVVY Awards, she has won an ICPA award, and #siselgelman has over 3.2 million views on TikTok. Sisel is pursuing her MFA in Fiction at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and her MA at the Bread Loaf School of English.

"Empowerment comes from ideas."

Gloria Anzaldúa

“And the metaphorical lenses we choose are crucial, having the power to magnify, create better focus, and correct our vision.”
― Charlene Carruthers

"Your silence will not protect you."

Audre Lorde

“It’s revolutionary to connect with love”
— Tourmaline

"Gender is the poetry each of us makes out of the language we are taught."

― Leslie Feinberg

“The problem with the use of language of Revolution without praxis is that it promises to change everything while keeping everything the same. “
— Leila Raven