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8.03.2015


In the Circus of You
NICELLE DAVIS & CHERYL GROSS

Poetry  |  Illustrated Novel-in-Poems
104 pages
Perfect-bound trade paperback
ISBN 978-1-9416280-0-3
First Edition
Review Copy: Paperback
Rose Metal Press
Brookline, Massachusetts, USA
Available HERE
$14.95
Review by Leah Angstman

Nicelle Davis’ poems of divorce and its aftermath, set to the tune of Cheryl Gross’ twisted pencil illustrations, reads like a trip through a carnival mirror maze, although it’s more of a madhouse than a funhouse. The poems are deep and largely pain-filled, yet they spin as if crazed into madness, not by an unseen force, but by one that could be seen coming for miles: that rollercoaster that is the end of a marriage. Through images of animals, mostly small hunting and pecking ones—mice, birds—, contorted body parts—a whole lot of teeth, skin, and hands—,

Cat and Mouse Acts

You taught your hands to move softly as thieving
mice, lifting the lids of my
eyes while I slept, so even my dream-self would
know you. Now there is
n’t a night that can coax you into our bed, is
n’t any of me that can
forget the cat-weight of sleep, pouncing.

and historical sideshow freaks, Davis conveys the circus act, the balancing act, that one goes through when a relationship bleeds out slowly. Gross’ disturbingly detailed pictures of two-headed freaks, dead birds, and distorted carousels only lend to the heightened carnival.

Many of the poems have physical layouts that mirror the subjects, as in the above example, wherein the lines read like a cat and mouse chase, back and forth. While I admire the dedication it takes to do that, sometimes it seemed that those poems lost some of their coherency in exchange for physicality, and especially where contractions are concerned, as they repeatedly got split up across two lines, making comprehension more jarring. It was not a hindrance but remained a puzzlement throughout the book.

That aside, there are some poems in this collection that are gems, including “Gravity,” a look at the painful act of splitting things 50/50 that simply can’t be split:

[…] Phone ring.
I wake before knowing if what comes next is falling or lifting—

find your side of our bed empty. You’ve called to see if
the dresser and kitchen table are ready for you to pick up—
if our son has been split 50/50 by ink and paper cuts. Sure,

I say, fingers tracing the profile of our son in his bassinet,
rubbing ours from the brim of his nose. […]

Another favorite, diving headlong into the idea of the marriage bed as sideshow, is “Complications in the Art of Monogamy—or—Conjoined Twins,” which starts out:

Sheets hung from lines block
the sight of a half-man in full
rapture. A wife wraps round her
side of a torso, her legs quiver
at climax. Clutching to the edge
of a bed, brother tries to quiet
his blind effort, bending to
the will of brother’s movements.
Both undone in, tonight not his
woman. Blue morning clutches
his empty limbs. He falls asleep
to the soft coos of brother’s bird-
song signing, beautiful into
the matted web of bride’s hair.
Breath joining three to a rhythm
of one.

[…]

As the pages go on, the book becomes less about the disintegrated marriage—the reasons why and how, the son it produced, now tossed between two maddened clowns—and more about the world as sideshow. Davis explores how her experiences make her see the world, and how the world views her in turn, how we are all part of the funhouse, how all of this is just an endless carousel. Above all, it explores rebirth in the detritus, that stage of picking up the pieces of the cracked funhouse mirrors and fitting them together again.




Leah Angstman is Editor-in-Chief and Director of Publicity at Alternating Current and a transplanted Midwesterner. She writes historical fiction and poetry, has had 20 chapbooks published, and has won numerous awards. Her writing has appeared in Los Angeles Review of Books, Tupelo Quarterly, Midwestern Gothic, Shenandoah, and elsewhere.
• This book was sent to Alternating Current by the publisher. The reviewer has had very brief online interactions with the publisher and authors on social media and in-person at AWP, but does not know the authors or the publisher personally. • Permalink • Tag: The Volt •

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