Saturday, August 30, 2008
The Pedestal Magazine review of A Cure for Suicide
Cervená Barva Press
Reviewed for The Pedestal Magazine by Joselle Vanderhooft
Larissa Shmailo plumbed the depths of human emotion and the heights of such extreme human states as homelessness, madness and grief in her dramatic 2006 spoken word CD The No-Net World. Although the majority of the poems in her latest chapbook, A Cure for Suicide, read less like conventional monologues, the turbulence, sensuality and unabashed wildness that engirds her earlier work is very much alive in these twenty-four poems. Indeed, the book's leading poem "Vow" (here reproduced in full) provides an uncannily accurate epigraph for the chapbook's mood and feel.
We will love like dogwood.
Kiss like cranes.
Die like moths.
"Vow" is a provoking promise for a passion that is as expansive as it is unconventional (after all, while "we will love like dogwood" is not a typical image to describe passion, the dogwood is a species of tree that blooms riotously). Shmailo delivers on this promise in poems such as "My First Hurricane," a heavy and wet description of a dizzying love affair, the wry "Dancing with the Devil" and "At the Top of My Lungs," a sharp, dark look at the narrow gap between love and violence. True to her interest in poetry as spoken word and her numerous poetry and music CDs, these riotous dogwood blossoms of poems often demand that they be read aloud, even sung. At times, the reader may even catch him or herself slapping a hand against a thigh or tapping a toe in time with the poet's effortless rhymes and tight, but never restrictive, meter. Shmailo writes in "Personal":
I want to know
what makes you
I want to know
what makes you
fickle; I want to know
what makes you
which ion propels you
which soothsayer spells you
which folksinger trills you
which hardwood distills you
which downward dog twists you
which protest resists you
which neural net fires you
which siren desires you
Shmailo even uses her sense of musicality to play with her readers, to force them to engage with the text kinetically in ways beyond just squirming to her poetry's pulse. In "Sea (Sic)," she presents the reader with this intriguing puzzle as a type of stage direction: "Please read the stanzas in any order you like." The speaker, meanwhile, presents his or her lover with a similar challenge:
Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know,
the order of my words.
Indeed, read in every possible way, "Sea (Sic)" flows like the tides of an ocean and mirrors the often obtuse language of desire between lovers. It also makes perfect sense.
For readers who may long for some of the more straightforward "dramatic monologues" Shmailo presented in efforts such as The No-Net World, there is no need to despair. Although many of the poems in A Cure for Suicide are shorter and more abstract than those on the spoken word CDs, the title poem "How to Meet and Dance with Your Death (Como encuentrar y bailar con su muerte): A Cure for Suicide" is a fantastic story (in the truest sense of the word) about the human lust to know death, to see the way in which one will die, to flirt with one's own mortality and hold it close. In this prose poem (which reads like the very best of magic realist fiction) a woman is able to meet and dance with her personal Death by way of a strange and deadly recipe that consists of mostly alcohol, cigarettes, peyote and "coffee as needed" and a number of excesses that recipe brings on: wild dancing, frantic singing and flirtation with two psychopomps who lead the speaker to her Death. However, the ritual can only be performed once. To do it more is "common."
...If you do this more than once, you will do it
often, and then you will become an old borracha who sleeps with
common men. Punto.
Arguably the book’s most engrossing poem (perhaps because of its strong narrative engine), "How to Meet and Dance with Your Death" is a taut piece of fantastic literature that discusses, with no lack of sexiness and slyness, the ways in which humanity's all-too-common todeslust can be tamed, mocked, teased and ultimately turned into a virtue.
Larissa Shmailo is a poet who sings, and fans of her spoken word CDs—as well as readers who enjoy their poetry flush with life, lust and the more awkward aspects of both—will find a lot to love in her latest offering.
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- Larissa Shmailo
Larissa Shmailo's poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in the Penguin anthology Words for the Wedding, the Brooklyn Rail, The Unbearables Big Book of Sex, Barrow Street, Fulcrum, Drunken Boat, Gargoyle, Cardinal Points, Lungfull, Big Bridge, Rattapallax, and About: Poetry. She was the winner of the 2009 New Century Music Awards for spoken word with music for her CD Exorcism; her first CD, The No-Net World, is heard frequently on radio and the Internet. Larissa's books of poetry are In Paran (BlazeVox) and A Cure for Suicide (Cervena Barva Press). Read her new e-book, Fib Sequence (Argotist Ebooks) at http://www.lulu.com/product/
Larissa translated the original English-language libretto of the Russian zaum opera Victory over the Sun performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music; it is archived at the Smithsonian, the Los Angeles County Museum (LACMA), and the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). Most recently, she received honorable mention in the international translators' competition for the 2011 Compass Award sponsored by Princeton University. Larissa translated a bibliography of Bible translations in the languages of the Russian Empire for the American Bible Society and contributed to the anthology Contemporary Russian Poetry published by Dalkey Archive Press.
Read Larissa Shmailo's new e-book, Fib Sequence, from Argotist Ebooks, FREE, at this link: http://www.lulu.com/product/
Larissa blogs at http://larissashmailo.
And buy books and CDs and digital recordings here (so gratefully appreciated):
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