The Court of No Record by Jenny Molberg—Book Review

by Susan Muth & Tori Reynolds

The tradition of the confessional mode is both continued and made anew in Jenny Molberg’s third book, The Court of No Record (LSU Press, 2023). Through documentary poetics and lyric recollection, Molberg examines a culture that prioritizes the suffering of women in its obsessions, in addition to a legal system that foregrounds violence and erases the experience of the victim. In blending confessional and documentary poetics, these poems lean into the personal in their pursuit against silencing, while simultaneously giving voice to others who have experienced similar abuses and trauma. 

Jenny Molberg

In the first section, “Expecting,” Molberg foregrounds documentary poetics, and the ekphrastic tradition in poems that focus on Frances Glessner Lee’s crime scene dioramas as well as various true crimes. Poems like “The Miniaturist” force Molberg’s readers to reconcile that “[a] man is looking in,” (25). Poems, like “Initiation in White,” capture rituals that seem centered on womanhood but are actually “for the boys who catcalled from their folding chairs” (11). This section seems intent on capturing the details, harkening to the tradition of ekphrasis while centering trauma against women as the unifying theme and pointedly noting the presence of the male gaze.

The second section of the book, titled “The Court of No Record,” centers entirely on scenes of court proceedings where a poet is put on trial for libel – an unfair byproduct of writing accurate poetry about the speaker’s abuser. Molberg centers these poems through gaze and speech, demonstrating the tension between what women experience and what they are, and aren’t, allowed to say.

By the time the reader reaches the third and final section of the book, “What Love Does,” it is clear to see that Molberg is using both persona and the tradition of the confessional mode as an act against silencing. Here, Molberg’s poems stray from court proceedings and turn towards a character named “Bitch.” There is a clear relationship to the other two sections, especially through lines such as this one in “Bitch Interrupts a Wedding,” “something / someone might write a poem about, / someone who isn’t a bitter bitch, or mostly likely a man / with nothing else to do” (59). In using the label “Bitch” as a named persona, the speaker of the poems is able to provide a sort of distance between lived experience and placing it on the page. 

The third section delivers the vindication that women deserve as we watch Bitch move through the final section. There is a reckoning in response to all the trauma inflicted thus far; in the poem “Bitch Monitoring Your Phone,” the speaker realizes “I was too afraid to see that I have always been brave” (74). When we step back to look at the entirety of the work, it’s clear to see Molberg’s latest collection is exactly that—fearless in its desire to not only break silences, but shatter them. 

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