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Review of Apocryphal by Lisa Marie Basile

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Apocryphal by Lisa Marie Basile; 
Noctuary Press, 2014; 90 pp
Reviewed by Janae Green


I am in my mother’s leopard heels &

we play house this way.

it hurts to speak beneath this bustier
but if I take it off,
it just hurts.
so I speak forever                      using my inside voice

—From Apocryphal by Lisa Marie Basile

Undoubtedly, Lisa Marie Basile’s collection, Apocryphal from Noctuary Press, can only be read as one who savors the crumbs of a last meal. Her poetry evokes hunger for every last vision—to gorge on every narrative snapshot with a runny chin and wagging tongue. Prior to the official release, I was grateful for the chance to e-read Basile’s book in advance. Nearly ten pages in—bless me father, for I have sinned—I got greedy and waited for the print copy. Basile’s collection is an example of why readers still need the print form. We need to turn the pages; there are works like Apocryphal that readers like me just need to exist in our hands.

Apocryphal discusses the body as both an ache and a crave that makes the passage between daughter and lover claustrophobic but dreamlike—and Basile does so with the sultry con of a femme fatale. We see the red-lipped roar of the female body created by the hands of man and her desire to be cradled and formed between his fingers.

The collection’s often emotional and always fearless narrative recollects nature as a woman and buries her hat in the garden, “hair big with curl & eyelid lined.” Often with a cigarette in hand, Basile’s narrator will not spare your trust nor will she apologize for her behavior:

I would learn to devour everything,
     mollusk & man,
become obsessively pregnant with you,
I mean:            become those woman staring,
& abort you.

As revealed here, Basile’s speaker is not only daughter and lover, but she is Mother. She tears the patriarchal order to shreds without smudging her lipstick. Her mythology is a crucial theme throughout the collection, and we forgive her feign as she continually rebuilds her story.

In Apocryphal, Basile generously showcases her ability to reveal humanity to itself, still raw and beating. With observations poignant and startling, “everything is born natural and then is not natural” and imagery that never disappoints, “like a pumping heart inside an egg-white envelope,” Apocryphal proves Basile will never be dust on a shelf, but an immovable poet, a force. Her poetry will be dog-eared and inked with a reader’s love notes for years to come and then, years beyond that.

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Janae Green is a writer living in the Pacific Northwest. She keeps a blog of her short prose and projects here.

Categories
2014 Blog

Review of ‘Train Shots’ by Vanessa Blakeslee

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Burrow Press

145 pages, $15.00

Review by Janae Green

 

“’Train shot,’” the bartender shouted at him, pinching a small glass between two nail-bitten fingers.

‘What?’ he shouted back.

‘Every time the train goes by, tequila shots are two dollars. You wanna train shot?’

—From“Train Shots,” by Vanessa Blakeslee

You could devour Vanessa Blakeslee’s first collection of short stories, Train Shots from The Burrow Press Review in one sitting, but that would be like slamming eleven shots in one hot gulp—even with an assortment of short story chasers, the warmth from the last short will burn in your throat.

Most pungent is Blakeslee’s title story, “Train Shots,” which features a depressed freight engineer who tries to cope with all the lives he’s taken—crushed by his train:

“’I don’t think I can take sitting home on grieve-leave for another couple of weeks. Going through all the same crap with the counselors. All I’ve ever wanted to do is drive trains. But this is getting to me.’

‘What’s getting to you?’

‘All the sadness,’ he said. ‘It’s incredible.’”

Blakeslee’s final story shares a heartache that readers will find familiar among the collection’s previous compartments: the search for safety and meaning. From silicon-breasted housewives to train engineers in “eggplant-colored velour blazer[s],” Blakeslee’s characters are real because they sit across from us on our daily commutes. As passengers, we catch glimpses into the characters’ lives and relate to them as they struggle to get by. Consequently, I think the guilty pleasure readers will appreciate most from Blakeslee’s array of personas is that their baggage is open; we can eavesdrop on them without detection. Much like Blakeslee’s opening story, “Clock In,” which sets not only an engaging—if not voyeuristic tone—to the collection, it establishes her ability to unravel life-size stories into compact spaces:

“Nancy keeps to the back office because of her smoking. That’s something no one talks about, Nancy smoking. She hides back there because she’s six months pregnant and doesn’t want the regulars to know. But everyone does know, about her smoking.”

Blakeslee’s fearless debut collection showcases a skilled range because her voice embodies convincingly human characters from all walks of life. Because Train Shots is a short ride, Blakeslee’s collection elicits a tight squeeze on the safety handles most of the way—and you will want to miss your stop just to keep moving.

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Janae Green is a writer living in the Pacific Northwest. She keeps a blog of her short prose and projects here.

 

Categories
Book Reviews

‘Sexual Boat (Sex Boats),’ by James Gendron

sexualboat

By Janae Green 

“I once moved to a house so old

I was unequal to living there.

I was hungry for two years, even while eating.

My foot was just long enough

to not touch the past.”

—From “Stronger than Dirt,” by James Gendron

For weeks all I thought about was pulsating waves; sex boats penetrating water: mouth-shape tight, and mouth-shape wider and mouth-shape wider, like water gulping water. James Gendron’s Sexual Boats (Sex Boats) from Octopus Books is steamy—your breath won’t fog the windows (and the water isn’t as dirty as it seems)—but it does rock back and forth quite a bit.

Forget the hot bubble bath the title suggests because Gendron’s prose works more as a black guffaw, as if to say: bend over and let me show you. Six chapters of poetry swallow his first collection, but just as “[p]oetry/is easy: you write whatever you want,” Gendron likes to backwash. His reoccurring title, ‘Sex Boats’ makes some waves, but the waters are at times tepid. The poet wants to almost abandon the reader in the shallow end, but when he’s deep, he’s very deep: “Sometimes I think the wind/is cute, then it destroys a town.”

Rather than peeling the flesh, the steam in Gendron’s poetry is more like a burning: the scar is internal. It can be both ghastly and haunting, but the intimacy is important. That’s the kind of poetry that shakes you from your bunk. My favorite piece in his collection, “Does the Hospital Deserve my Love?” does just that:

“A green car broke my friend. I saw her in the ICU. The x-rays revealed

that her skeleton was male. That’s why she can no longer walk.

As an exercise, I lie down in the hallway and sleep. I begin to feel

a certain warmth toward the hospital, but nothing I would

characterize as love.

Exercise two: I’m wearing a sick person’s body as a suit.”

Gendron often reflects the past as something current, or always with us and it is rightfully so. It’s eerie how the door opens and shuts on its own, isn’t it? You can give credit to the whirring fans and open windows, but it’s almost like someone is always in the room with you. As his narrator describes in “Shade,” the familiar always lives within us: “I swear: when you leave me alone./every part of my body/is having its own nightmare.” If you row the Sexual Boat be diligent about it.The poetry here can be worthwhile, but your arms may ache once you reach the waterfall.

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Janae Green is a writer living in the Pacific Northwest. She keeps a blog of her short prose and projects here.

Categories
Blog Book Reviews

‘My Dead,’ by Amy Lawless

lawless

By Janae Green

“Poetry is a way to live, a way to talk about the world, a way for shit to matter. Literature and creation of poems is just one paradigm through which to make sense of the world.” —Amy Lawless in an interview with James Gendron at The Conversant.

The dead never leave us, or rather, the dead never leave us alone. Amy Lawless’s second collection of poetry, My Dead (from Octopus Books*), was devoured in two sittings—but that is only because I had to shake the poppies from my skin and stare at the shadows on my bedroom walls between readings. Lawless writes with such a raw approach to death that her words breathe life into all of its brevity. Her prose takes the reader someplace higher—beyond the grave—to a deader world living inside the vulnerability of its narrators (and its readers).

The fear of death makes the poetry in My Dead  rattle—its heartbreaking, intimate, and often times perverse—Lawless writes death with the life-force of headlights and it’s hard to look away. The narrators’ hands are always dirty. What I found most remarkable in this collection was the narrative in her opening prose, “Elephants in Mourning”:

When an elephant dies the lover takes the body and rolls it over and over.

When an elephant is dead it lies in a way that living elephants can not.

When an elephant dies he takes the body and rolls it over.

He scrolls his trunk and pulls his head back.

Some call that honor but it looks like someone who wants religion for a minute.

He does not X out the window.

He is someone who wants to be told that there is something else.

There is nothing else.

Lawless makes us see elephants because they’re in the room with us. Suddenly, the mourning rituals of the two-legged sort seem alarmingly less human. And of course, there’s that smell: “Sometimes a man dies and no one finds him and his flesh dries off his bones and the bones slowly absorb back into the land and later a farmer will till the land and grow crops and feed the family . . .”  Now its cold sitting by the open window of our tiny apartments, deep between the cracks of taller buildings, somewhere in the big someplace. Her words are like a stale, open mouth and you constantly find yourself holding your breath. Stare at the shadows on the wall. Shake poppies.

What follows “Elephants in Mourning” is a series of jitters and screams; poems Lawless stabs with her sharp tongue and wit under the title, “One Way to Write a Sonnet is to Number the Lines.” Her words demand attention, but the choleric tone is thoughtful: “You think poetry / is something you get invited to but it isn’t.”  She finishes, “Why did you ask me for a light without looking at me? / Are you alone too? / Might we lean against the same tree? /  . . . And we will stay there until some social media finds us.”  A majority of her poetry reads desperate to share that we are all suffering alone together. Life is often more terrifying than death and her narrators take notice of the human condition.

My Dead plays to a thematic whole. There are human qualities in the alleged non-human and vice versa, but ultimately, accepting death—or truly, seizing life before death—is the only way to capture life and live to our brim. Notably in “Cannibal Wedding,” Lawless narrates in one of her most intimate (and arguably, her most perverse) poems about life, where it’s apparent that life literally feeds on death life:

At the cannibal wedding those invited looked upon them. Those who had loved and lost cried. And those who had never loved but wanted to love cried. And she, who had looked inside herself and knew that it’s just fucking wrong to expect another person to fill one’s vessel . . .

This is not so entirely different from her concluding narrative, “The Skull Behind My Face,” where Lawless bares the dirt beneath her fingernails and finally reveals her most grave vulnerability: what her fears of death look like. I think it will look familiar.

Lawless writes poetry that itches; you have to bury your fingernails into your skin and bleed a little to remind yourself not to scratch it. Particularly for those who think poetry is dead (god forbid), I recommend that you do yourself a favor and slap to yourself with a copy of My Dead. If you pay attention, you’ll discover what she means—and she’s only going to tell you once.

*A very special thanks to Hajara Quinn of Octopus Books for sending me two free review copies of your recent publications. I look forward to reading James Gendron’s book of poetry, Sexual Boat (Sex Boats). Sounds dirty.

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Janae Green is a writer living in the Pacific Northwest. She keeps a blog of her short prose and projects here.