Thursday, September 13, 2018

All-Star Women Poets Read to Benefit Women Democratic Candidates 9/29!

Sunday, September 09, 2018

So, this is living under fascism . . .

So, this is living under fascism . . . the avocados I buy are still ripe and delicious, the trees in Riverside Park still speak of the beauty of eternity, my friends still write exquisite poetry and prose. But a weight hangs over me, a sadness, a loss . . . . Today, I noticed the long tail of a rat scurrying beneath my favorite park bench, and I cannot sit there anymore. It is that loss of security, freedom, dignity, the knowledge that honesty and fair play are forever gone, that the rules will never be respected again and like the rats, outrages will continue to multiply and authoritarian rule alone will stand. And we can patch things up a bit, but life will never be the same. Is this when I, writer and poet, go to work? Yes, otherwise, what good am I?

Friday, September 07, 2018


Michael T. Young's beautiful review of MEDUSA'S COUNTRY.

Aching toward Redemption: a review of Medusa’s Country by Larissa Shmailo

Reviewed by Michael T. Young
Medusa’s Country
by Larissa Shmailo
MadHat Press 
2016, 70 pages, $14.95, ISBN: 978-1941196380
It’s been said that there are only two subjects in literature: love and death; Medusa’s Country is the battle between those primal forces. It’s no wonder that battle, and the country where it takes place, are hard given the power the eponymous figure is known for. As the poem “Schweinerei” says of the world, it is “hard, atrocious, and cruel”[i]And what makes the country of this collection especially so is that it is not fantasy, like medusa herself; but rather a steady look at the reality of our own world: a world of war, rape, suicide, where “life is real; and death the realest part” (28).
But let’s delve more carefully, because such a description may give the false impression of depressing teenage verse, and the poetry of Medusa’s Country is far from that. It is rather the poetry of experience and not of innocence. It is a collection of incredibly intelligent and subtle poetry that never loses focus of its themes. It is a poetry that aches toward redemption even as it is bogged down by histories and impulses that cannot be undone. So between the transcendent and the incarnate there is a wrestling for justice.
After torture and rape a child dies, finally;
The suffering of innocents, God’s gaping sore.
Still I pray daily, but I’m mad, you see. (31)
The reach toward love, toward what transcends the pain and suffering of the world, results in an embodiment. That embodiment becomes a confinement, a trap, and thus a kind of failure. As Joseph Brodsky once said, “In poetry, as anywhere else, spiritual superiority is always disputed at the physical level”[ii]. Shmailo’s poems rage at the center of that dispute and thus the governing metaphors tend toward the claustrophobic and crippled.
Your empty heart can’t know love’s blood at all.
You’ll be my heart, a numb, reflexive pleasure
to beat, half-heart, and never know full flexure. (21)
Family history
is largely hysterical mystery.
This old cold sold blow hold on me
is moldy genealogy. (12)
In that “love’s blood,” in that “reflexive pleasure,” that “moldy genealogy,” is a determinism that belies all effort to a transcendent love. And this makes that desire so painfully felt. I’m reminded, at times, of the aridity and emptiness that St. John of the Cross explores in Dark Night of the Soul. Shmailo, in longing to transcend the pain of the world, embraces a totality that inverts ordinary terms:
I love love’s desert and its snow.
I, Shmailo, dervish, a lover signed. (51)
Or as in the first footnote to “Between Eclipses” says, “It is not the grace of salvation you await, but the grace of no salvation” (10).
At the end of the second section, the spiritual dispute surfaces as an aching for an end to the boundaries of the self. And this is where death and love seem to become almost indistinguishable. In the final section of a poem called “War,” we read
Maybe as the last breath—will we know it as last?—as the last
breath goes, we—will we know any we?—we might feel another’s
dying breath that we might know someone else’s as we know our own
death. (38)
In Eastern philosophy and on the subatomic level in science, the boundaries that separate us become tenuous. So, the final section, in the wake of this poem, enters realms of quantum physics and Hinduism.
I’m the field of every being;
parts of me are parts of you. (47)
This is me, it cries, this is me and I die.
We will all speak these words in this way
and then, and till then, what shall I say? (55)
The final section from which these poems come is the collection’s supreme effort toward redemption. But love must ever return to its embodiment and, therefore, a kind of entrapment. Transcendence is not permanent but only part of a cycle.
I will make love to you between rebirths
with penis and womb, with land and sea,
with wind and sun and death. (49)
Buried within that sentence loaded with polysyndeton is the phrase, “I will make love to you . . . with. . . death.” If an orgasm is “le petite mort” one gets the sense from this collection that death is a “grande orgasme,” and the cycle of rebirth returns us to the desires of a body that can’t shake its history or primordial urges. As the collection concludes with the poem that gives the collection its name:
The water will dry and will leave only dust;
I will feel no prick when it does.
The serpentine grass will cover my love
And green growth enshroud what was.
But once a man stood like a statue
Before my cave of trees
His eyes transfixed by my serpents
That hardened, froze, and pleased. (56)
Apart from that return to dust and resolving into bitter memory, it’s important to note the innuendo that plays through the lines, for Shmailo’s poetry is abundant with linguistic wit and wordplay. As here, “I will feel no prick as it does” simultaneously means “prick” as a penis and “prick” as a pang of grief or anguish. And that is equally part of the hardness learned by a hard life. It is forgiveness learned through pain, as in the poem “Rape,” where a footnote tells us:
“Through the ability to understand how little you cared, I grew strong. I forgave and forgot you, like used toilet paper, flushed” (29).
Sexual love and transcendent love become indistinguishable and so transcendence slips away and the harshness of the world crowds in. We are left with terrible longing. But also the beauty of the language, a beauty that has the power to transform the tragic into song.
One of my personal favorite poems in the collection is “Live, Not Die; Live Not, Die.” It’s a marvelous variation on that unwieldy form, the sestina. But more than this, it is a poem of both linguistic and ideational play that is dreadfully serious. Springing off of Hamletand his ponderous question of existence, it goes on to weave in relevant references to Eliot and Marvell, and, of course, questions of love. The poem exemplifies the intelligence that pervades the collection in double-entendres, in deep engagements with literary figures like Nabokov, Tolstoy, or Lermontov, or in pressing literary forms into a painful service as when a limerick is used to talk about a crematorium in a death camp.
It’s important to remember that medusa was once beautiful and was changed into a hideous creature by failing to keep her vows as a priestess of Athena. The pain and suffering traced through Medusa’s Countryare like a series of betrayals that results in a similar curse. The beauty that is written into the language, and painted into the cover art, are undeniable. But the world will not let beauty go untouched. It forces the hard choices, rendering them as compulsions of survival and so torturing the beautiful into the hideous.
In the movement of poems from formal to free verse and back, there is a push against restraints both in theme and form. So Shmailo’s “Cardiac Ghazal” is written in iambic hexameter rather than the more common pentameter and her villanelle “Apostasy” resists any definite meter when scanned and yet the muscular character of the words and rhythms works well with the outrage of confronting the injustice of children raped and driven to suicide.
If I find a disappointment anywhere in the book, it is only in the few moments of failed editing or formatting which falls on the publisher’s shoulders. So, there is a comma or period out of place on occasion and the opening comments by Steve Dalachinsky misquotes one of the poems in a significant way. But these are not, as I say, errors that are to be lain at the poet’s feet. No, in fact, if anything is to be lain at Shmailo’s feet it is the laurel of antiquity in recognition of her mastery as a poet.
[i]Larissa Shmailo, Medusa’s Country(Asheville: MadHat Press, 2017), 34.
[ii]Joseph Brodsky, Less Than One: Selected Essays(New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1986), 133.
About the Reviewer: Michael T. Young‘s third full-length collection, The Infinite Doctrine of Water, was published by Terrapin Books. His chapbook, Living in the Counterpoint (Finishing Line Press), received the 2014 Jean Pedrick Chapbook Award from the New England Poetry Club.  His other collections include The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost (Poets Wear Prada), Transcriptions of Daylight (Rattapallax Press), and Because the Wind Has Questions (Somers Rocks Press).  He received a fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the Chaffin Poetry Award.  His work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous print and online journals including The Cimarron ReviewThe Cortland ReviewEdison Literary Review, Lunch Ticket, The Potomac Review, and Valparaiso Poetry Review.  His work is also in the anthologies Phoenix Rising, Chance of a Ghost, In the Black/In the Red, and Rabbit Ears: TV Poems.  He lives with his wife and children in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

All-Star Women Poets Read to Benefit Democratic Women Candidates

For immediate release
Contact: Larissa Shmailo 

Women poets read in support of Democrat women candidates

Cornelia Street Café
29 Cornelia off Bleecker
Greenwich Village, NYC
Saturday, September 29, 6:00 – 7:15 pm
$20 cover / $10 minimum

New York City — On September 29, as part of the global 100 Thousand Poets for Change initiative, seven leading New York City women poets will read to benefit the Democratic National Committee’s ( midterm election efforts. Proceeds will be earmarked for the campaigns of progressive women candidates and candidates in battleground states.
All-Star Women Poets Read will feature Lee Ann Brown (In the Laurels, Caught; Polyverse); Elaine Equi (Ripple Effect: New and Selected Poems; Sentences and Rain); Rachel Hadas (“The Golden Road”; The Iphigenia Plays of Euripides - New Verse Translations); Patricia Spears Jones (A Lucent Fire: New & Selected Poems; Painkiller); Trace Peterson  (Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics; Collected Poems of Gil Ott); and Larissa Shmailo (Patient Women, Medusa’s Country), led by mistress of ceremonies Maggie Balistreri (The Evasion-English Dictionary Expanded Edition; A Balistreri Collection: abc poems).
All-Star Women Poets Read will celebrate the growing role of women in political leadership today and send a message of #neverTrump to Republican anti-women agendas.  Voter registration information and volunteer opportunities to help Democratic midterm candidates will be distributed at the reading and a special message of support from district Congressman Jerrold Nadler will be read.
All-Star Women Poets Read is part of the eighth annual global event, 100 Thousand Poets for Change (100TPC), a nonprofit, grassroots organization which brings communities together for sustainability and peace. This year’s events involve nearly 2,000 individuals and organizations and include a special initiative among families and in classrooms, “Read a Poem to a Child,” to highlight the importance and vulnerability of children.       
All poems read at All-Star Women Poets Read and 100TPC will be archived at Stanford University.
For more information, contact Larissa Shmailo (All-Star Women Poets Read) at 212-712-9865 or Michael Rothenberg (100TPC) at 305-753-4569.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Senator John McCain 1936-2018

I was horrified at John McCain's bombing of the North Vietnamese people, but moved by how he stayed with his fellow captives for five years at the Hanoi Hilton, even when he was offered immediate release; I loathed his support of the NRA, but admired how he defended Obama as a good and decent man when one of his supporters called him an "Arab I don't trust"; I hated his support of Trump's tax giveaway, but honored his single-handed refusal to destroy ACA. In the time of Republican toadyism, I loved McCain's bipartisanship and the way he called Trump out on his bullshit. I would never have voted for him, but deeply grieve this honorable man. May the kingdom of heaven be his.

Monday, August 13, 2018


My second novel, Sly Bang, will be published by Spuyten Duyvil in 2018-19! Thanks to publisher Tod Thilleman!

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

My sister Tamara

Today would have been my sister Tamara's 70th birthday, had she lived. Five years have passed swiftly since the untimely death of my sibling, who supported me creatively, and, when I needed it, financially - the reason I called her "Theo," as Vincent van Gogh called his benefactor-brother.
This poem of mine was her favorite. Thanks, Theo!
Ladybug, the autumnal, menopausal forest is aflame,
Burning with your yearning and desire: go home.
No season of mists or mellow fruitfulness for you, only
The hot flash of Eros dying, growing old.
Fall now, the deep loam envelopes your breasts,
Dugs that hang low. The crimson leaves as
Veined as your hands, varices red and blue,
Glitter with last dew, the brilliance before death.
Can you, withered Phoenix, rise?
Female over fifty, do you have your music, too?

Thursday, August 02, 2018


Today is the last day to enter the Goodreads book giveaway to win a free copy of MEDUSA'S COUNTRY, poetry with a kick! Final hours - enter today!


Wednesday, August 01, 2018


Spectacular news! Two AWP proposals I am participating in have been accepted for the 2019 Portland Conference! So thrilled to be moderating "Hybrid Sex Writing: What's Your Position?" with panelists Cecilia Tan, Thaddeus RutkowskiJonathan Penton, and extra-amazing special guest Erica Jong!!!!! I am also event organizer and panelist for "The Critical Creative: The Editor-Poet" with our brilliant moderator Marc Vincenz and wonderful panelists Amy King, Kwame Dawes, and Michael Anania! What incredible colleagues and what great panels! Looking forward to a brilliant literary spring in 2019!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Book giveaway - 3 days left

Win a free copy of MEDUSA'S COUNTRY, "a new book of searingly intelligent poems from a uniquely eloquent poet." Three days left!


Sunday, July 22, 2018

Goodreads Giveaway - Win a Copy of MEDUSA'S COUNTRY

This week only, enter the Goodreads Giveaway to win a free copy of MEDUSA'S COUNTRY, a poetry collection that says #metoo with a kick!  Time and number of copies are limited, so enter today!


Saturday, July 21, 2018

Baudelaire, “Beauty,” from Fleurs du Mal

I am beautiful, o mortals, like a dream of stone,
And my breast, where each one has in his turn shattered,
Is made to inspire in poets a love
As mute and eternal and silent as matter.
I reign in the azure like a sphinx out of mind;
I unite a heart of stone to the whiteness of swans;
I hate the movement that displaces the lines,
And never do I laugh and never do I cry.
Poets, before my grand attitudes,
Which I seem to assume from the proudest statues,
Consume their days in austere études,
For I have, to fascinate these docile amants,
Pure mirrors which beautify everything they see:
My eyes, my great eyes, of eternal clarity.
Tr. L. Shmailo

La Beauté
Je suis belle, ô mortels! comme un rêve de pierre,
Et mon sein, où chacun s'est meurtri tour à tour,
Est fait pour inspirer au poète un amour
Eternel et muet ainsi que la matière.
Je trône dans l'azur comme un sphinx incompris;
J'unis un coeur de neige à la blancheur des cygnes;
Je hais le mouvement qui déplace les lignes,
Et jamais je ne pleure et jamais je ne ris.
Les poètes, devant mes grandes attitudes,
Que j'ai l'air d'emprunter aux plus fiers monuments,
Consumeront leurs jours en d'austères études;
Car j'ai, pour fasciner ces dociles amants,
De purs miroirs qui font toutes choses plus belles:
Mes yeux, mes larges yeux aux clartés éternelles!

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