Friday, July 27, 2012

Jeff Hansen's Review of In Paran

The Altered Scale Blog

Larissa Shmailo's IN PARAN (BlazeVox) by Jeff Hansen


  "      you see very few men have souls     and very few men have courage    the few who have the courage to follow their souls are mostly all dead     lost in leaves     people kill them you know”

                                                                                                —from “Madwoman”

What characterizes this volume of poetry, published in 2009, for me is the astonishing variety of poetics on display. Shmailo proves herself adept at wild internal rhymes, traditional metrics, prose poems, and found poems. The book is divided into three sections: Love Poems, LitCrit, and In the World. I will discuss one poem from each.

The book begins with a glorious love poem, “Personal.”

I want to know
what makes you
I want to know
what makes you
fickle; I want to know
what makes you stick.
forget the right answers
consult necromancers
allow the forbidden
ignore the guilt ridden
unlearn all the learning
embrace this new burning

The celebration of erotic love is ensconced in the playful internal and standard rhymes. Love becomes childlike, wonderful, as fun as hearing an unexpected confluence of sound in two words. So often, romantic love is obsessive and demanding. This is pitched at the mystery of the beloved, and she transforms the mystery into linguistic play at the aural level. This poem is as much music as poetry

The second section, LitCrit, begins with “In Paran,” which itself begins by quoting Melville: “Call me Ishmael.” She uses iambs, very long lines, and a self-consciously archaic diction to, again, celebrate, this time the speaker’s wildness:

I grew up wild and stubborn: my hand against my father
At war with all my kinfolk; my kin at war with me.

Hear the iambs and alliteration propel this declaration of independence, of will, of stubbornness, and of the will to see demons and thrive. I can’t help but think the speaker is female, in spite of her calling herself Ishmael. Yes, this is a poem in the voice of Ishmael. But it celebrates being as wild as a man (is allowed).

The most interesting poetic move, for me, occurs in "Chimera." The whole poem is below:

The use of bold and italics creates two poems within a larger poem, and the way the lines shorten as the poem unfolds feels like the last word: “cut.” This poem makes me feel the pain of illusion and disillusion, the way we never know if we know. We could be at the cinema when we are just walking down the street: Chimera.

In the “In the World” section Shmaillo addresses politics and pain, from the Holocaust to My Lai to homelessness. The latter is addressed in a loosely held-together poem, a form that echoes the very state of homelessness, called “No-Net World.” It is straight-ahead, almost journalistic.

“Now your debts mount up like garbage and a layoff’s coming soon.”

This line is typical. By the end of the poem, the accumulated weight of a life on the edge is witnessed and given voice.

I recommend this book to anyone who loves to see a poet take chances, go with anything and use everything from all of poetics, who writes as she, apparently, feels she must and not according to any “shoulds.”
Larissa Shmailo will appear in Altered Scale 2. See her audio and textual work in Altered Scale 1.

Larissa Shmailo's work has appeared in Gargoyle, Barrow Street, Drunken Boat, Fulcrum,The Unbearables Big Book of Sex, and the Penguin anthologyWords for the Wedding. Her books of poetry are In Paran (BlazeVOX [books]), A Cure for Suicide (Cervena Barva Press), and Fib Sequence (Argotist Ebooks); her poetry CDs are The No-Net World  and Exorcism, available through iTunes and other digital distributors. Her translation of A. Kruchenych'sVictory over the Sun is forthcoming from Cervena Barva Press and is currently featured on the Brooklyn Rail InTranslation Web site.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Poets Respond to Jung's Red Book at the NYU Art and Psyche Conference

Larissa Shmailo, Martine Bellen, Kristen Prevallet
Poets Respond to Carl Jung's Red Book (Liber Novus)
Saturday, July 21 – 8:00  pm
Art and Psyche Conference
NYU Kimmel Center – Rosenthal Pavilion (10th floor)
60 Washington Square South, New York, New York

$15 admission includes conference program for Saturday evening - please see the conference Web site at

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