If the Girl Never Learns: Poems

Sue William Silverman

If the Girl Never Learns was a finalist for the 8th Annual Beverly Hills Book Awards and an honorable mention for the 2019 San Francisco Book Festival.

You are The Girl, and The Girl is a Badass.

From the opening lines, it’s clear The Girl at the center of these poems is damaged—which is another way to say she’s a survivor. If the Girl Never Learns moves from the personal to the mythic to the apocalyptic, because The Girl would do anything, even go to hell, to save her soul. So, she resists, takes action to overturn society’s suffocating ideal of Good Girldom. The poems’ sense of breathlessness reflects The Girl’s absolute need to control her own destiny, to outrun her past, while at the same time chasing a future she alone has envisioned and embodied. Because The Girl is, above all else, a badass.

Read two poems from If the Girl Never Learns on Cultural Weekly.

Reviews of If the Girl Never Learns

If the Girl Never Learns, she is never going to learn the hard way! She goes down swinging. And singing. Silverman has given us poems of both heart-stopping descent and dissent. Like some granddaughter of ‘Lady Lazarus,’ this ruthlessly crafted collection—as sharp and shiny in its sounds, propulsive rhythms, and wordplay as a blade—knows how to perform. It holds its dazzled reader spellbound.”

—Kathleen Graber, author of The Eternal City, National Book Award Finalist

“Pocked with rage and trembling, the landscape here is nightmared with the distorted mirrors of carousel rides and sedatives, Bosch paintings and seedy motels. In these terse, jagged lines is a girl who chooses her own adventure from a rigged and broken game. Reader, this is the place to go in search of the kind of understanding that can only come with the raw truth.”

—Nickole Brown, author of Sister and Fanny Says

“With every iteration of ‘if the girl,’ we are taken deeper and deeper into one girl’s life—every woman’s life. Silverman asks, ‘How does she go on?’—and it’s the power of her art that each poem propels us ever forward into those nether regions of loss, of near connections and near misses, while somehow miraculously holding her readers in the most graceful and tenuous net above the dark abyss. These poems arrive with the force of revelation in the eternal ache of searching for love.” 

—Robert Vivian, author of Immortal Soft-Spoken

“Silverman crafts feelings of devastation, anxiety, trepidation, and ultimately triumph alongside the shared speaker as she weaves herself around the scenarios each poem presents. . . . Despite the balance struck here between the gruesome and defiant details in these poetic fates outlined by Silverman, I cannot help but feel restored after finishing the collection. It is as if I have been transformed alongside the girl into a new iteration of identity with each progressing line, and yet a small piece of the girl at the heart of these poems is also revealed in these descriptions. The reverberating ‘if’ throughout each of these poems thus becomes the catalyst on which these possibilities hinge, casting readers at once in the present moment and towards a future that is, as of yet, undefined. These future moments are steeped in images as gruesome and haunting as they are beautiful. . . . 

“Silverman’s work in If the Girl Never Learns balances in this proposed area between life and death, hovering at once betwixt the oppressions experienced by the speaker and the subversion of the textual limitations mapped over her. As we travel alongside the girl . . . we find that the final moments that have been laid over this girl figure are merely representative of another beginning—a journey no reader will want to miss.”

—Christa Rohrbach, Bellingham Review

About the Author

Sue William Silverman’s first poetry collection is Hieroglyphics in Neon. She is also the author of four books of creative nonfiction. Her most recent book, The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew, was a finalist in Foreword Reviews’ INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award. Her memoir, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, won the AWP Award, and Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction is also a Lifetime TV original movie. Her craft book is Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir, and she teaches in the MFA in Writing Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Read Sue William Silverman's interview on Cultural Weekly with Gail Griffin.

Watch Sue William Silverman's interview with PBS Books.

Listen to the NAMW interview with Sue William Silverman, June 2019 (MP3, downloadable to your device).