“Love Letters to Balled Fists” packs a soft punch

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A new book by Austin poet Ebony Stewart delves into the complexities of physical and sexual abuse, race, the love of mothers and cupcakes.

Ebony Stewart conveys her own truths and universal ones in “Love Letters to Balled Fists,” a collection of poems out February 28 by local publishing company Timber Mouse. Her first full-length published book mixes hard and soft, a reflection of her own identity as “The Gully Princess.”

“The gully part is more of a heavy hand, say what I gotta say I don’t give a damn,” Stewart said. “The other part is the love letters where I try to be sensitive and be vulnerable.”

Stewart started writing poetry when she was eight years old. She started performing her poetry live in 2005 and moved to Austin in 2007. She is active in the Austin slam scene and said Texas is a great place to be a performance poet. Most of the poems in the book were written over the last two years, and some as recently as a month ago.

She grew up surrounded by women after her mom divorced her abusive father. Today, she writes powerfully on the impact of women in her life and in her community.

The first poem, “Mosaic Women,” ends “These women, who carry a pen, a switchblade and bubble gum in their purses. I say these women, make the world go ‘round in verses.” The line sets up the rest of the book, which mixes up serious ideas with light commentary.

In “Cupcakes,” Stewart explains that she eats the sweet treats in lieu of vices like booze, weed or video games. A poem about the deliciousness of red velvet is suddenly a poem about sex and the failure of quick fixes.

The poems are confessional — Stewart called herself “a life writer” — and the author doesn’t shy away from sharing hard truths about her past. In “Domestic,” Stewart shares her experiences seeing and experiencing domestic violence.

Lines like: “For his best friend, who is also his roommate, and watched me lie on the floor in a fetal position, closed the door because it wasn’t his business, and listened to my skin split between his knuckles, congratulations on your baby girl,” pack a verbal punch that wakes the reader up.

Kevin Burke, another Austin slam poet, started Timber Mouse last year. “Love Letters To Balled Fists,” out Thursday, is the publishing company’s second book. To celebrate, Stewart and other poets will perform at a book release party at the 29th Street Ballroom Thursday at 7:30 p.m. The book is available online at Stewart’s website and the Timber Mouse website.