Review of Aziza Barnes' i be, but i ain't (YesYes Books, 2016)

Mouth & Mutt in Aziza Barnes' i be, but i ain't: Diagram + Review by Rochelle Hurt

Use the outer ring as a key for themes and motifs in the quoted lines. The relationship between and among quotes and themes is represented by color and spatial alignment. 

Aziza Barnes' i be, but i ain't invests in a range of themes: family, illness, sexuality, violence, self-preservation, race and otherness. Ultimately the collection is about identity in the context of these issues, all of which are linked via the body. In this book, the body is both a source of anxiety and a means of survivalthe question and the answer at the heart of the speaker's struggle to be

I'm particularly interested in Barnes' mouth imagery. Through the mouth and related activities, the speaker establishes conceptual associations that form a web of themes and motifs. For example, family is often seen alongside food and booze; food is also often used in comparisons to the speaker's body, including polycystic ovaries, while booze frequently appears in descriptions of sex, desire, and dating. Meanwhile, family and love are both linked to the speaker's defensiveness ("my mother. She taught me first to screw up & steady mean // mug on the pavement at folks not my kin"), which is linked back to eating ("your mama remodeled my mama kitchen, which is insulting & I think of you when I eat"), which is a means of self-preservationas is the speaker's teeth-baring alter-ego, "the mutt," who appears in several poems throughout the book. In turn, teeth represent both destruction and desire ("Told them to chew you up until you couldn't breathe just to be in their warm mouth"). In the diagram above, I've used examples from the book in order to represent just some of the ways in which these ideas and images begin to bleed into one another through their overlapping and cyclical associations. Use the outer ring of the diagram as a key for themes and motifs in the quoted lines. The relationship between and among quotes and themes is represented by color and spatial alignment. 

Barnes' figure of the mutt is a beastly projection of the disdain piled on the speaker's body by a social system that devalues Black bodies, women's bodies, queer bodies, ambiguous bodies. The speaker defines the mutt in terms of this degradation in an early poem: "a mixed person. You can mixed, just don't be mixed up! half & / half. bi-____ multi- ____ & other words for emptiness. cavity. not of / teeth." So the mutt may be the speaker's internalization of this disdain, but manifest as a full embrace of those qualities that seem to garner disdain in the first place. She wears her body without shame and becomes the mutt on her own terms. In the final and most stunning mutt poem of the book, we see the speaker "sitting still with my blood running but not out." 

From one angle, a mutt is all moutha being that snarls, growls, licks, drools, chews, bites. For women, and perhaps especially women of color, to be an open mouth without shame is a monstrous transgression. Women are expected be seen but not heard, consumed but not consumers, their legs and lips closed. Women of color are often assumed already guilty of and doubly despised for crossing these lines. Thus Barnes' repeated mouth imagery is not only a refusal of meekness, but also a reclamation of the loud mouthand her language reflects this. Barnes' syntax and music is brash, unapologetic, and quick to make leaps, commanding a reader's full attention.

Yet agency in this book isn't simple. Through its associations with consumption, the mouth also becomes a mechanism of internalized otherness and self-destruction. Near the beginning of the collection, Barnes writes: "In my own home I attempt nightly / to eat my body alive," and while the book doesn't offer false hope or tidy resolutions by the end, it does offer a deeper and more contextualized view of self-de- and reconstruction. In the final poem, Barnes compares the constructed self to a house using formations that test syntactical structures. The fragmented lines push and pull each other into hard-won cohesion until they finally conclude:

                 you know this part that you              won't last that you will be torn     back down
to your simple                                               self you may in the process               forget what you were
until                          you are again                                                     what you were a slab of wood
        a nail & no intention                           only you are different now you are
touched you have been moved                 made & unmade       swiftly        you have been lived in  


There is a friction between resistance and desire—for love, for sex, for understanding, for a coming to terms—in these poems, which offer bared teeth alongside open mouths. This is the central line of tension running through i be, but i ain't, pulled taut by Barnes' sharp and compelling tongue.


Rochelle Hurt is the author of In Which I Play the Runaway (Barrow Street, 2016), which won the Barrow Street Book Prize, and The Rusted City (White Pine, 2014), a novella in prose poems. She is the recipient of awards and fellowships from Crab Orchard Review, Arts & Letters, Hunger Mountain, Poetry International, Vermont Studio Center, Jentel, and Yaddo. She is also a PhD candidate at the University of Cincinnati.

Review of Amandine André's Circle of Dogs (Solar Luxuriance, 2015)

 

Circle of Dogs by Amandine André, translated by Kit Schluter and Jocelyn Spaar

Review by Joyelle McSweeney

 

Late April in the small blue Rust Belt city of South Bend, Indiana. Life is stressful and covered with pollen. Naturally, under the rain of bad news and microgametophytes, one’s thoughts turn to revolution, and, specifically, the anti-patriarchal kind. But what will be its shape? How might a non-phallic co-body ‘penetrate’ the center of power in order to destroy it? What might be its methods? What horizon, what “next”, might it bring into view?

"How might a non-phallic co-body ‘penetrate’ the center of power in order to destroy it?"

Some recent anti-patriarchal works of translation feel like blueprints for anti-phallic revolution—including Aase Berg’s Hackers, translated by Johannes Göransson, and Dolores Dorantes’ Style, translated by Jen Hofer. In both those works, patriarchal self-sameness is undermined by a fizzing, multiple, choral or fragmented co-body which, unorganized into a single ‘what’, somehow  hacks (Berg) or seeps (Dorantes) into the space of the phallic ‘real’, collapsing or paralyzing it. In both works, the question of what will come ‘next’ continuously refracts like an image from a prism—the future is dazzlingly multiple but never definitively arrives. To bring that nextness into being might be the work of the reader.

Another model is proffered in the bizarre and irresistible short text Circle of Dogs by Amandine André, translated from the French into both English and image by Kit Schluter and Jocelyn Spaar. This work has the drive of dance; the strictly limited vocabulary—arranging and rearranging the terms “dog”, “head” and “words” in severely attenuated syntax—puts the reader through her paces. André asserts in her Preface that rhythm in art is produced by the struggle to “put an end to the master’s reign”: “This rhythm produces a body that members and dismembers itself, an other inside of me.” This ‘body’ could just as well refer to the reader’s body as she is manipulated into and out of the relations of power the text diagrams.  The diagrammatic energies of the text become continuous with those forces in the world beyond its brief space, via the vehicle of the reader.

The English text opens:

Dogs. Dogs in the head. Dogs outside. Dogs. In the mouth devouring flesh. Dogs. In the head turn and bark. Dogs. In the head don’t lay the head down. Dogs. Turn and dogs forage and dogs guard. Dogs feast in the head. No more silence. Dogs bark. Dogs growl. Dogs threaten. Gnawing away. The head in  the mouths. Clench the head release the head clench the head don’t let go of the head.

 

 

 

Thus the reader is dropped into a dog-world, dogs thudding in the text like a beat or a blow: 400 dogs, 400 blows. Schluter and Spaar have recreated this gesture of the text with exactitude by replicating André’s word order and, like her, omitting articles before these ‘dogs’ so that they cohere into a sometimes singular, sometimes plural force of dogginess. The reader is quickly beaten into the rhythm of the text, beaten into (yes) submission—where a ‘dog’ does not appear at the beginning of the phrase one looks around for it somewhat anxiously (“In the head don’t lay the head down”). The reader takes up the role of ‘head’, beset and later penetrated by dog(s).

In obeying André’s syntax, constricted vocabulary and chary use of articles with a strict scrupulosity,  the translators communicate to the readers the text’s essential logic of masochism, a masochism which will allow the bottom to eventually undermine and overcome the top. As André notes in her preface, “all domination is made to be overthrown and is overthrown as soon as the subaltern comes to understand its place, understands that is through it that power manifests, as soon as power can be harnessed to overthrow power.”

Ironically, we can see this overthrow happening on the level of language itself right in this translation. While French is certainly an imperial language, it is no match for the current hegemony of English. Yet, translated into English, André’s Gallic perversity, with its strains of Sade and Bataille, Genet and Artaud, is not blunted but amplified.  This is because, in French, verbs reveal their subjects through their conjugation. The unanchored verbs in the above passage, “turn and bark”, “don’t lay the head down”, “Clench the head release the head clench the head don’t let go of the head”, actually indicate, in French, a third person plural subject. Though André does not rewrite ‘chiens’ each time, context confirms the subject to be “dogs”, and the phrases could be rendered, “Dogs turn and bark”, “Dogs clench”, etc. But Schluter and Spaar have chosen to follow Andre’s omitted subject and, in English, the omitted subject converts all these verbs into commands. Thus it is the addressee, the reader, who is implicitly commanded to turn and bark and clench and release. The reader is thus forced to assume her position in André’s theater of dogginess, the theater of dominance and submission, power and overpowering. Just as, in André’s text, underdog eventually subverts dog, so English’s immediately sadistic imperatives are harnessed for André’s eventually antihegemonic ends. 

"The reader is thus forced to assume her position in André’s theater of dogginess, the theater of dominance and submission, power and overpowering."

Schluter and Spaar’s bravery in allowing this reversal to happen right in the syntax of the text rather than semantically ‘clarifying’ the translation is to be praised. As the text knifes along it enacts many such upheavals—head, in-dogs and out-dogs, and finally words all take their turn at the ‘top’ and in the ‘in’ of this pack. But there is another level to this translation—the beguiling and unsummarizable a-topologies in the form of drawings by Spaar which punctuate the texts. Here we are flipped out of language. The drawings both perform the text’s involutions and provide alternate means of swallowing (with one’s eyes) the text’s commands. They are also lovely. With no rational syntax or vanishing point, the drawings somehow burrow out of power’s sightlines while concealing their alternate horizons.

This is the ultimate riddle of Circle of Dogs. Its logic is circular. Entities rise and fall. Initially subservient, head figures out how to dominate dog by manipulating words—yet word eventually bests her, as the text’s final phrase suggests.  A circle is a closed form, and so Andre’s vision is more fatalistic than Berg’s or Dorantes’s. Yet, paradoxically, it is also an open form because continuous; André’s Circle provides the somehow invigorating lesson that the tools of revolt are always close to hand, and that no defeat is permanent. Rather the struggle is permanent—and continually translating itself into Art’s convulsive rhythm.

 

This text is sold out, so a free PDF of the complete text is available here.


Joyelle McSweeney is the author of eight books of poetry, drama, fiction and essays. Her most recent books are:  The Necropastoral: Poetry, Media, Occults (Goth eco/poetics);  Dead Youth, or, the Leaks, a verse play which won the first Leslie Scalapino Prize for Innovative Women Performance Artists; and Percussion Grenade, poems and a play. With Johannes Göransson, she edits Action Books, teaches at Notre Dame, and lives in South Bend, Indiana.

Review of Essy Stone's What It Done to Us (Lost Horse Press, 2017)


“A town we all know well”: A Collaborative Review of What It Done to Us by Essy Stone


In this collaborative review, Allison Pitinii Davis and DJ Morgan, an instructor and a student at Tennessee Wesleyan University, examine What It Done to Us (winner of The Idaho Prize 2016 ) from East Tennessee, the region explored in the text. While reviewing Stone’s examinations of Appalachia, we considered our own relationships to the region and our narrative distance as readers.

 

Allison: In the end of “My mamma used to call me a black-hearted child,” the speaker references The Lost Sea Adventure, America’s largest underground lake. It’s located twelve miles from the university we’re writing from. The speaker is annoyed by “All the tourists fucking around/with their flashlights, & what I want is to frighten them back.”

We are readers who live near the locations Stone writes about, but I feel like a tourist in these poems—my gaze is as problematic as “all the rich white men gulping mugs of American beer” at Hooters in “The Argument.” Yet Stone’s speakers urge readers to keep looking—they are nothing if not hospitable. In “They come looking for blood,” men approach a Hooters waitress to use her blood in a violent ritual, and the waitress welcomes them— “I said come in please misters.” The waitress agrees to let the men scrape blood from her ankles with a nail file because “It is a truth universally acknowledged that someone’s gotta bleed” and “I’d hacked my legs up shaving anyways.”

"I feel like a tourist in these poems—my gaze is as problematic as 'all the rich white men gulping mugs of American beer' at Hooters"

These female speakers endure violence, yet in the end, they win by attrition. In “Among the Prophets,” the speaker appeases the patriarchy in order to avoid abuse—“Daddy, yes, we’d be dead without you, we’d be dead on the streets like rats, yes, we is like rats exactly”—but then reworks her prostration into a Trojan Horse: “I seen an army fall before, & in the end it was the rats who swallowed every last gilded thread on their bodies & chewed up the bodies too. Come judgment, the littlest is the largest.” When televangelists or Californians or readers try to “save” or pity these speakers, the speakers wield submission like a weapon. In the masterful rewrite of William Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell, a jock on a subway in California sexually harasses the speaker and asks her to dominate him because it will make her feel “empowered.” She replies, “I don’t wanna be empowered—to me violation is the sexy part of sex.”

While these poems make it clear that “these is hard economic times”—“no resale value on a trailer home, but you keep the acreage unless the government dicks you down,” “all the money from the pill industry goes out of state; you never see it here,” “a trailer-park rager…/a gun up your ass when you sit/between cushions on the couch”—the poems save the most vicious critique for the self and its endurance. In the final poem, “The Angel Wants to Know What Fear Is,” the speaker shows her difficult survival no pity: “Still you look so pretty with your own flesh in your teeth.” This final line makes the reader understand that yes, we are tourists here and in way over our heads. We appeal to Stone for help, but her brutal gaze has shifted from the reader to the self.

DJ: Her writing seems to be just the abrasive, hard-hitting truth that modern Southern readers have been needing and pining for. As we say in the South, she told it like it is, both boldly remonstrating the failings of small Southern Tennessee life as well as defending and highlighting the facets of religion, neighborliness, and behavior that defines and enriches us all. I am immensely proud of where I come from and the experiences I have had; I don’t not want to leave you with the impression I despised coming from a small town.

The first few lines of “Fast Car” immediately establish an emptiness—she mentions it should have been filled with love—that envelops her so much it is “burning you up & pounding between your ribs.” The following description of the need and want to fill this emptiness struck me particularly hard. Coming from a small town (we didn’t even have a red light), there were definitely moments I felt destined for more or just desired something greater. I believe this is where she is going, especially when she calls herself an “outsider.” The poem itself, her work as well, is easily identifiable and comparable to any small-town citizen, whatever their age.

My favorite part of this prose poem is her praying the dam will break loose because something has to be released or awakened. How fitting she made this comparison! Yet the finality of the poem, the resolution, finds her in the arms of a boy and his fast car, dressed in her cashier’s uniform, hearing promises from this boy that he will take her far away, yet knowing it isn’t true. After reading that, I felt a certain dryness inside myself. She paints the small town life well, not necessarily painting a morbid picture but being careful to show the prison-like qualities of it, of being stuck in a mire of complacency.

Allison:  I’m much newer to the South that you and Stone grew up in, but I’ve seen the stretches where “God quotes himself on billboards along I-40.” Much of the collection alludes to a dark side of Tennessee’s history—in “Among the Prophets,” “the KKK chopped my daddy’s wood for him, winter of 1968—damned if they would see a white boy freeze.” In “Chattanooga Wedding,” a kinswoman mechanically braids ribbons in the speaker’s hair even after there is no more hair left to braid: “she stares into space—/her palms clasp & release, clasp & release, tracing incantations in empty air.” I particularly don’t have access to the deep-rooted religious culture of East Tennessee. In “Sex and Psychosis in the House of Prayer: A Vocabulary,” the collection explores what the speaker and Rolling Stone call a religious cult: “IHOP—International House of Prayer—meant to confuse folks hungry for pancakes.” Yet in poems like “Charismatics in Ecstasy,” the speaker notes the ways in which she and her church still “clasp each other/in secret.” This especially comes through formally—the language and long lines of these poems evoke biblical incantations.

"she cannot truly escape the 'clutches' of the small town; however, it may be that the small town cannot truly escape from her"

DJ: In “Charismatics in Ecstasy,” Stone is easily able to produce both a sour and a sweet picture of church, a staple in the South. Here, the beauty comes from the fact that despite her absolute rejection of it, she still “flirts” with the practice, perhaps realizing it is indeed a much larger and immensely impactful part of her she never truly understood before. I think it can be tied back in to “Fast Car” where she cannot truly escape the “clutches” of the small town; however, it may be that the small town cannot truly escape from her, as she clings on to some small part of her past. Behind the composed face and the façade of knowledge and self-confidence, some small part of her cannot be completely done away with.

Allison: “The small town cannot truly escape from her, as she clings on to some small part of her past.” Absolutely.  Reviewers often applaud writers who avoid “regionalism.” As a writer who focuses on the Rust Belt—another misunderstood region—I appreciate how Stone unapologetically presents Appalachia. She explores the area’s dialects, religious culture, and class issues yet also uses these “regional” elements to pull one over on the reader. In his introduction to the collection, Gary Copeland Lilley notes that “Stone has created a southern gothic for today.” The genre is often associated with the grotesque, which reminds me of Flannery O’Connor’s remark, “Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.”

Stone especially manipulates the “grotesque” in the poems exploring waitressing and strip clubs. These speakers are experts at constructing façades for survival. They head back into the bathroom to “adjust our cleavage, growl through lipsticked teeth at the unseen/hand that holds us here./Raise our chins to meet its invisible fist.”  These speakers invite us to look at what poverty, fundamentalism, and patriarchal violence has “done to us” and what they do to survive it, but they remind us that they can watch us watching them. “In a Strip Club Called The Emerald City,” the speaker warns the customers “I heard they put cameras/in the bathrooms.” In “Trap House,” the speaker warns her customer “you don’t know that your end of days starts here,/in me, between my legs.” In “Snake Oil,” the speaker and her partner sell tinctures of “Vapor Rub, cigarette filters, chlorinated pool water, & Fresca” and “those fat saps/ate it up like the last supper.”

The final section of the book includes a rewrite of Blake’s A Marriage of Heaven and Hell. In Stone’s version of “Memorable Fancy III,” “The Angel spake unto me & said, how did you recover?” The provided antidote is “I earned some scratch & moved/to California.” Is the answer ditching flyover-America for the coasts? In “The Voice of the Devil,” “The Angel spake unto me & said, your daddy’s hell is California!” to which the speaker admits that “may be something we got in common.”
 

Note: This review's title is taken from the murder ballad "Knoxville Girl" (below), to which Stone alludes in her collection. 


DJ Morgan is a student at Tennessee Wesleyan University in Athens, Tennessee.

Allison Pitinii Davis is the author of Line Study of a Motel Clerk (Baobab Press, 2017) and Poppy Seeds (Kent State University Press, 2013), winner of the Wick Poetry Chapbook Prize. She holds an MFA from Ohio State University and fellowships from Stanford University’s Wallace Stegner program and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. She teaches at Tennessee Wesleyan University and will begin her doctoral studies at The University of Tennessee starting Fall 2017.

Review of Laurie Ann Guerrero's A Crown for Gumecindo (Aztlan Libre, 2015)

 

A Creative Review by José Angel Araguz


Unsettled Crown (a golden shovel)

only the page on which to place your crown – Laurie Ann Guerrero

When I write about mis muertos, my loved ones, only
silence sits with me. Yet in this silence (the
silence of ink and warm hand, of breath and page)
the unsayable also goes on
walking in and out of the room, a habit which
I know it cannot break. Were I to
call it unsettled, there would have to be a place
for the unsayable to go. Escuchanme, mis muertos: your
absence is unsayable. My beating heart is its unsettled crown.

"Guerrero recalls the practice of 'descansos,' makeshift crosses and memorials placed at the site where someone has died"

The above is a golden shovel-style poem incorporating the last line of Laurie Ann Guerrero’s A Crown for Gumecindo (Aztlan Libre Press, 2015). This collection presents a crown of sonnets with journal entries and meditations interspersed, which, along with paintings by Maceo Montoya, come together as a powerful elegy and tribute to the poet’s grandfather, Gumecindo Martínez Guerrero. This mix of painting and text makes for a reading experience that is thoroughly engrossing: poems are fleshed out over pages, with paintings juxtaposed for effect. Guerrero’s meditation becomes the reader’s as time is spent physically taking in and moving through the collection. The use of journal entries (which are also interpolated into the poems) furthers this effect. The variation in tone and voice compels the reader to listen closely; what is glimpsed on one page is reflected and brighter in another. Subverting the traditional crown of sonnets to fit the needs of this elegy, Guerrero recalls the practice of “descansos,” makeshift crosses and memorials placed at the site where someone has died. Guided by a strong lyric sensibility, Guerrero fashions a crown that honors the life lived as much as the death.

The decision to respond to the collection with my poem above reflects the spirit of fashioning and creating from the elements left behind. In an elegy, the poet is addressing another, reaching out to them from one side. Yet, absence is its own kind of presence, and in acknowledging absence and speaking the names of our dead, we make that presence stronger. In his introduction to this book, Tim Z. Hernández notes: “In Latin America, there is a call-and-response tradition that when the name of a fallen comrade is invoked in a public space, the entire community hollers back ¡Presente! Which is to say, he or she is with us now!” A Crown for Gumecindo stands as a testament to the power of what one can do with “only the page.”


José Angel Araguz is a CantoMundo fellow and the author of six chapbooks as well as the collection Everything We Think We Hear (Floricanto Press). His poems, prose, and reviews have appeared in RHINO Poetry, New South, and The Volta Blog. He runs the poetry blog, The Friday Influence. A second collection, Small Fires, is forthcoming from FutureCycle Press.

Review of Marisa Crawford’s Reversible (Switchback Books, 2017)

 

Reversible: A Cento + Review by Lisa Summe

 

It was 1994 and I started having this feeling.
A closet full of tie-dye shirts, a Gap Scents perfume called “Heaven”
that makes me burst into tears instantly upon smelling it. Sisterhood

is really something. Two teen girls on the corner in matching puffers.
I am inspired by them. The rhinestones. The rain.
I’m still floating on that feeling.

We were listening to the Ani DiFranco song about how she forgives
her father. I feel sad about masculinity. Being “good”
means eating as little as possible. Girls are dying out. Girls are dying off.

I kept a log in the 1990s of every detail of every outfit that I wore
every single day. I wore plaids and stripes and florals
and pushed my fingers into my bedroom wall.

Tuesday: velour stripe with jeans, sunglasses, and blood lipstick.
I dove into the pool with all my jewelry. So many things that I lost there.
I post pictures of myself. When I look at them on the Internet

it’s like a heat wave. A cassette tape too worn to rewind or play.
I made a wish. We stared at the mountains, drank champagne,
bounced on an enormous trampoline.

I read my sister’s diary. In 1990.  Hand jobs and house parties
and hair metal. I was stargazing, headbanging.
It was summer. The dead of summer.

We were smoking pot on a porch
with three hot brothers with ponytails
and where our eyes go we put red candy hearts.

(Lines taken from Marisa Crawford's Reversible.) 

 

In her second full-length book, Reversible, Marisa Crawford takes her readers back to the 90s through a deluge of details: mix tapes, Converse, hair dye, cheap jewelry, and velour skirts. Much of the pleasure I got from reading this book came not only from re-experiencing 90s fashion and music, but from recalling a kind of girlhood on which women from a variety of identity positions can reflect.

There are so many moments in this collection that I cling to as I think back to my days as a young, (more) awkward (closeted) lesbian who thought that attracting boys was a significant accomplishment. I remember that Gap Scent, “Heaven,” from a trip to the mall with three friends in the seventh grade. I bought the smallest plastic spritzer bottle they sold. The liquid was a purple-periwinkle-ish color, and it smelled like cheap teen girls—kind of fruity, kind of floral—a smell I soon embraced as my own in an endeavor to attract a crush whose name I could write on my Trapper Keeper, a name like Kyle or Alex or Eric. (BTW, you can find out here what your Gap Scent says about you. But TBH, I was not awesome and my paper route did not provide me with the cash flow to own the matching candle, soap, and body wash.)

Ultimately, Crawford asks readers not only to remember our past, our youth, but to look at ourselves through consumerism, songs, fashion—to consider and engage with the objects and feelings that have constructed our current identities. Back to the Gap Scent: this small detail took me back to a moment I probably haven’t thought about since it happened. The whole book does that. At that moment, I wasn’t out to even my closest friends. I wasn’t aware of the language I could use to describe my identity and my sexuality, but surely that moment has shaped and is still shaping my identity and my feminism.

"Crawford asks readers not only to remember our youth, but to look at ourselves through consumerism, songs, fashion"

One thing I really like about Crawford’s poems comes down to the most basic units: the words. In a world so deeply buried in bullshit, I like a poet who says what she means: “For a long time, thinking about you was the easiest way for me to get that feeling in / my chest." I don’t think Crawford would be upset if I called this book sentimental. It’s my best compliment. In Joy Katz’s essay, “A Symposium on Sentiment,” she cites Kevin Prufer: “Prufer suggests sentimentality is bad when it undermines emotional complexity. A good test for useful sentiment in a poem, he says, is to gauge whether it complicates, rather than simplifies, our emotional response to the world.” Specificity is a big part of this complexity: “I had this feeling you were on my speed dial, Jay. / Like you were the emergency number."

I don’t want to oversimplify this book by marking it as a joyride back through the 90s. While many of the moments in this collection highlight the ecstasy of being young, and while I consider much of this book celebratory, reverent of adolescence, there are dark moments, moments that warrant mourning, grief, and sometimes feminist rage:

          A dude walking behind me called
          me “beautiful.” “Doll.” He said, “Keep up the good work.” Maybe
          when he said that, he was talking about my writing, or about how I
          stopped shaving my armpits, like a French babe, how I miss Katie.

There’s a complexity to these poems that shouldn't be overlooked—they are feminist in their approach to and love of women, their valuing of female relationships and the tenderness that cultivates those relationships, and their acknowledgement of the continual ache that comes with being a girl.


Lisa Summe was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio and is a recent graduate of Virginia Tech’s MFA program. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Tampa Review, Smartish Pace, Lambda Literary, Salt Hill, and elsewhere. She likes cats and running and cookies. You can find her on Twitter @lisasumme.