A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up, in which I get to speak with Sara Tantlinger about her poetry collection, The Devil’s Dreamland.
In The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes (StrangeHouse Books, November 2018), Sara Tantlinger intertwines fact and speculation to examine inner workings of H.H. Holmes, a man who committed ghastly crimes in the late 19th century and who is often credited with being America’s first serial killer. Narratively arranged, these poems offer up an evocative and chilling imagining of life and times of Holmes along with his wives, victims, and accomplices. A profound and fascinating collection for anyone interested in the riveting realm of true crime.
“The building shivers
beneath each curve of my footstep,
my home, my castle
fit for Bluebeard himself,
entwining murder and luxury
like salt and sugar
placed gently on the tongue
where each tiny grain dissolves
in a way blood never will.”
— from “Shades of Wild Plum”
You can listen to the interview here or on the podcast app of your choice.
NonBinary Review, a quarterly digital literary journal, has an open call for submissions of poetry poetry, fiction, essays, and art relating to Homer’s The Odyssey. All submissions must relate to the books (movies or television shows will not be accepted).
NonBinary Review pays 1 cent per word for fiction and nonfiction, and a flat fee of $10 for poetry (singular poems or a suite) and $25 per piece of visual art.
Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, games, and podcasts.
It’s been another amazing reading month. I adored Gwendolyn Kiste’s The Rust Maidens, a stunning work of body horror in which young women begin to bodily reflect the decaying undertones of the city in which they live. Their bodies reflect the rust, marred concrete, and broken glass that surrounds them. Check out my full review for a more thorough description and the reasons I love this book.
Speaking of horror, The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes by Sara Tantlinger is a profound and chilling collection, which blend fact and supposition to relate the life and times of the man thought to be America’s first serial killer. The poems are visceral with a fascinating narrative arc. I was excited to have been able to recently interview Sara for the New Books in Poetry podcast, which should be available soon.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi is a stunning book of YA fantasy. Magic in Orïsha is gone, the maji long dead. Only their children remain, marked as outcasts by their silver hair. After a chance encounter with a rogue princess, Zélie learns that magic might have a chance to come back — if Zélie, her brother, and the princess can survive long enough to conduct an ancient ritual. The world building and setting is rich and fascinating, the characters are multi-layered, complex, and strong, and the story presents a compelling epic quest. I can’t wait to read the second book.
Old Man’s War by John Sclazi is the story of John Perry, who joins the Colonial Defense Force at the age of 75. He signs up, like many people his age, for a chance at a second youth and at seeing the universe beyond Earth. I’m not generally a fan of military SF, but I love the way this story is told. I dig how we as readers get to experience Perry’s growing astonishment as the weirdness he encounters out in the universe just keeps getting weirder — and more deadly. It’s a rollicking good story.
Description:“It’s the summer of 1980 in Cleveland, Ohio, and Phoebe Shaw and her best friend Jacqueline have just graduated high school, only to confront an ugly, uncertain future. Across the city, abandoned factories populate the skyline; meanwhile at the shore, one strong spark, and the Cuyahoga River might catch fire. But none of that compares to what’s happening in their own west side neighborhood. The girls Phoebe and Jacqueline have grown up with are changing. It starts with footprints of dark water on the sidewalk. Then, one by one, the girls’ bodies wither away, their fingernails turning to broken glass, and their bones exposed like corroded metal beneath their flesh.
As rumors spread about the grotesque transformations, soon everyone from nosy tourists to clinic doctors and government men start arriving on Denton Street, eager to catch sight of “the Rust Maidens” in metamorphosis. But even with all the onlookers, nobody can explain what’s happening or why—except perhaps the Rust Maidens themselves. Whispering in secret, they know more than they’re telling, and Phoebe realizes her former friends are quietly preparing for something that will tear their neighborhood apart.
Alternating between past and present, Phoebe struggles to unravel the mystery of the Rust Maidens—and her own unwitting role in the transformations—before she loses everything she’s held dear: her home, her best friend, and even perhaps her own body.”
My Thoughts: I’ve been hearing about The Rust Maidens for a while now, the book continually recommended by others in my social media feed as a stunning work of horror. Having now read it myself, I can whole heartedly agree with each and every one of these observations.
The story takes on body horror with young women at the center. This seems a natural progression, since, as the book illustrates, young women’s bodies are already not their own. One of the aspects of this book is how the mother’s rule the block, meeting out rules, structures, and punishments for their girls. When one of the girls gets pregnant, it’s the mother’s who decide what to do with her and her baby, regardless of what the girl wants (the boy is also irrelevant in this). So, when the young women’s bodies begin to change, taking on the oily, glass-strewn decay of the city, it goes from seeming to be a strange disease at first to seeming like an act of defiance. All the wrongs quickly become cast onto the shoulders of these girls, who dare to be anything other than the kinds of girls people expect them to be.
Maybe that’s why Phoebe remains untouched by this metamorphosis — she’s already something other than the kind of girl she’s expected to be. We see the story from her point of view — both during the events and long after. All at once, she is both horrified by the changes she sees in her cousin and the other girls, and awed by them, finding a strange beauty in their transformations. She holds so many levels of loss and guilt, feeling she’s made all the wrong choices along the way. I love her as a character, not because she’s perfect — she’s far from that — but because she comes off as so human, housing anger, sorrow, and compassion for the people and community around her.
This story is so touchingly beautiful on so many levels, providing a blend of deep, unsettling horror with human love and hope. I particularly love the way the relationships between these girls changes and evolves over the course of this story. It’s just so, so good. As soon as I read the last page, I clutched the book to my chest and just held it. I’ll be looking for all the things by Kiste in the future.
If you want to get some more insight into Kiste’s process writing The Rust Maidens and her love of horror, the Darkness Dwells podcast has a great interview.
Isobel O’Hare’s all this can be yours (University of Hell Press, 2019) presents a series of erasures crafted from celebrity sexual assault apologies. These poems offer fierce explorations of the truth hidden behind apologies intended to explain away or dilute culpability, rather than accept responsibility. The result is a powerful collection that opens up a wider conversation surrounding sexual assault and the need for change on a systemic level.
Erasure poetry for me started out as a magical, playful, light-hearted exercise to jog the brain, to sort of get me thinking differently. And it also started out as a conversation with someone else’s work, and sort of a reverent one—approaching someone’s work with great respect and the desire to bring something out of it that might be hidden beneath the surface. There are lots of methods of doing that—I’ve used whiteout in past erasures, and I’ve done blackout with Sharpie. I’ve experimented with cutting words out.
The idea is you’re removing something—or you’re not removing something. Jen Bervin had a really interesting term for it . . . something like restitution. It’s a really interesting word for what you’re doing with erasure, which is not necessarily removing something, but bringing something forward. So it’s not always you violently attacking someone else’s work, which it can feel like sometimes, but you’re allowing things to bubble up to the surface that may not have been apparent before.