Review of Human-Ghost Hybrid Project by Carol Guess & Daniela Olszewska (Black Lawrence, 2017)

Human-Ghost Hybrid Project by Carol Guess & Daniela Olszewska

Review & Cento by Stacey Balkun

Human-Ghost Hybrid Project is a collection of collaborative prose poems by Carol Guess and Daniela Olszewska. A hybrid text with two authors, its sentence structure grounds us as readers, but the narrative is nonlinear, at times absurd, reading almost like a mad libs with unexpected nouns and verbs filling each otherwise familiar sentence. Our speaker is neither ghost nor human. We find ourselves in this liminal space between time and place: the world presented here is both familiar and not of this earth. The prose poems here destabilize the reader and re-create syntax, inventing language and making meaning of uncertainty. These ghostly poems offer a new lens, a new way to see what it means to live not as a human-ghost but as a woman, navigating the world with many faces. In response to this project, I offer this three-part cento: a hybrid of lines and titles from the book (italicized) and my own thoughts.



Human Ghost is only half in love with your language. Don’t try to speaknot yetdon’t bother the girl ghost ruminating under a freestanding helmet. We are both autumnal in post-Ophelia dress. Half-joke, half-threat: I’m simultaneously psyched and sober, wavering and opaque in this newfound form. Both my brains have been working overtime to make me look like someone you could fall, then stay, in love with. It takes both my eyes to see this, both my brains to process, both my lips to respond.


Ghost Human is the author of multiple mistakes and six past date boxes of kaleidoscope perfume. Human Ghost is hybrid and unbridled. Here, we’re half-human, half-disappeared. We flick our tails, scales bright as stolen cigarettes. We take up the whole page. We wait for shipwrecks, Princess-ish. Together, we re-define royalty, expanded and abridged. We speak together, voice singular. We’re so much alike no one remembers my name.


I’m simultaneously sheep and pleather. Scaled and feathered. This is what it means to be woman. How brash of me to bride my bridge: sky for borrowed, clouds for blue. They said how it would always be for us, but we proved them wrong. I found a text message in a bottle, sand and broken glass everywhere, okay? We run these pages, flickering. Then I feel guilty about feeling guilty. Then I feel pointy and then I feel flat.I speak my mind, common syntax a spoiled formso let’s Devil in the Details. An underwater matchbook might stay hooked in a coral reef for centuries; an emory board cracked in my pocket and tossed to a junk drawer forever. This is no Girlbox for Sale. You know this story, but you don’t know that in the Original Version They Cut Out Her Tongue. We’re here to show you how it grew back.

Stacey Balkun is the author of Jackalope-Girl Learns to Speak & Lost City Museum. Winner of the 2017 Women's National Book Association Poetry Prize, her work has appeared in Crab Orchard Review, The Rumpus, Muzzle, Bayou, and others. Chapbook Series Editor for Sundress Publications, Stacey holds an MFA from Fresno State and teaches poetry online at The Poetry Barn and The Loft.