At one point in #specialcharacters, Larissa Shmailo declares: “Mother Kali, you have made me what I am: feminine, brilliant, entirely without fear” — and the rest of the poems in this collection prove this true. They run the gamut from being outspoken to outrageous, irreverent to downright heretical, taking gleeful pride in knowing exactly how far is too far – and then going even further. I see this work as a continuum in a long tradition of radical writing practices from Futurism, to Dada, to Oulipo, to Pussy Riot. Read it when you wish to be empowered. Read it when you wish to be entertained. Read it to rid yourself of the precious and polite.
This is a thrilling book of femininity and magic. When it comes to capturing the intimacy of pain, Larissa Shmailo is among the most daring poets of her generation. When speaking of human rights, she is a human flame. She is subtle and provocative, fresh and out of bounds. You will fall in love here, and you will be loved right back.
With #specialcharacters where even the title is special Shmailo has managed to split language into its common & least common denominators/principles: sound, meaning, symbol, feeling (text/ure) as well as providing us with a range of voices from child to adult & male to female within a range of styles & mannerisms from the ultra-experimental to quirky “innocent” rhymes like her sexy riff on “the 12 days of Christmas” in her classic “The Other Woman’s Cunt.” Her knowledge of the “WORD” & how to use it extends from darkly humorous to warm, lyrical, tender & painful . . . This is a major work by a major poet.
The opening piece catches the first 12 Fibonacci numbers and finesses them into giddy remembrances of an octogenarian's most significant birthdays. Then, the pages of poetry spiral with the 89 year old, ever outwards, or perhaps inwards, toward her infinity. Stream of consciousness narration, witty footnoted asides, plays with parentheses and fonts . . . Shmailo's poetry sucked me into/out of its golden spiral.
—Moira Richards, Cape Times (South Africa)
I thought this was going to be all poetry, but it is much more experimental than that, ending with a wonderful piece about a woman who is close to the end of the line with aging, mental illness, and poverty. It's called "MIRROR, or a Flash in the Pan." It is very close to fiction, although it certainly has passages of poetry. It's an excellent piece, crystal clear and shockingly honest. The collection also includes what is rightfully maybe Shmailo's most famous (popular?) poem . . . "The Other Woman's Cunt". This one is angry, raunchy, vicious and — by the way! — hilarious. There is a fair amount of typographical experimentation and deep connections to literature and mythology, but at its heart, as a whole, the book has the remarkable quality of being extremely moving even when you aren't sure what's going on.
—Meredith Sue Willis, Books for Readers
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