Set in the nineteenth century United States, KateLynn Hibbard’s poetry collection Simples chronicles the female experience on the western frontier. From perspectives settler, immigrant, and native, Simples is equal parts firm and enchanting. Hibbard narrates the experience of women’s suffering, transience, settlement, and survival on America’s plains.
Hibbard’s use of the American West’s flora and fauna is her most tactful strategy in developing the narrative context of this collection. Most notably, the poems “Juneberry,” “Hanging Tree,” and the final “We Gave Up” drive home themes of fertility, sustenance, and desire in an environment that promises its inhabitants nothing; the simultaneity of narrator and setting is impossible to ignore. Primitive images of agriculture, domesticity, and labor in the West weave delicacy and utility—faith and suffering—into one fabric.
Hibbard captures raw, unapologetic realities and testifies to a foregone period of history and the weather it wore on America’s humanity. Ultimately, Simples is a tale about perseverance and the end of perseverance, and it gives volume to the experiences of women and natives who built the West while their histories were silenced.—Connor Poff