The poet Susan Slaviero came to my college recently to speak, and I bought her two recent books. I’ve really enjoyed a little creepy bedtime reading, and wanted to share with you!
Starting with the gorgeous chap, Selections from the Murder Room is like looking through a beautiful, but haunted, Victorian sitting room. So many beautiful things everywhere with a sense of darkness and dread lingering in the air. I loved “Why I chose Taxidermy as my Art” with images like “femurs stained with violet” and “pearly tongues.” The sounds in the title poem are delicious: “ruck your thumb on a clavicle,” “a refrain that rings like penny razors,” or “creased necks chokered in violet beads” are like truffles on display for one’s choosing. For anyone who stood in a dark room facing a mirror as a child, chanting incantations, look over “Hell Mary” with its reminders of “hands bleeding iodine” and “a rent in the glass that summons me three times, spinning.”
As if the poems in this chap weren’t lovely enough, the publisher, Tree Light Books, designed it as an art book, with endsheets cut from a medical book and a limited numbered edition. The cover, with an image of a cadaver being stripped down to musculature, is so tempting and indicative of the content inside I couldn’t NOT get it!
From Victorian taxidermy and murder, I moved on to Cyborgia, a full-length collection published by Mayapple Press. Full of machine women, Cyborgia touched me as a comment on how society sees/creates/envisions women and how women see/react/behave in the face of society. It’s a confusing muddle where human and machine, nature and made, blend and contort. In the poem “Anatomy of the Grotesque” Slaviero writes, “One cannot separate flesh from burn–/ this thing we call woman melts under your tongue.” This “thing” includes “well-dressed meat” and “transparent segments revealing miniature sparrow lungs.” She is “a beautiful horror.” In “Gretel Discusses her Prosthetic Arm,” the girl who saved her brother calmly shows off her “mechanical limb” that makes her “more than mere girl; I am an armory dressed in gingham and lace.” “Our Lady of Bricolage” points out that “When she is unstitched, you will find/ she is nothing but sticks and bottlecaps,/ discarded girl-bits.” In the end, women cannot be made and are more complex than the sum of their parts. Duh!