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36 pages
5½” x 8¼” ribbon-bound, paper chapbook with cardstock cover and deckled endpapers
First Edition
Hyacinth Girl Press
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
Available HERE
Review by Michael Lindgren

This fierce and unsettling offering from young poet Lisa Marie Basile, by way of micropress Hyacinth Girl, is a harrowing depiction of a dysfunctional (abusive?) relationship, limned in verse of undeniable force and energy. An erotically supercharged exorcism, war/lock has a performative element to it that lends the submerged events of the poem a narrative arc. “I should have known the signs, my darling,” the narrator says ominously, early on; halfway through she can report, “I am getting stronger. / I am stronger than you.” By the end of the poem, she is “wounded / from oleander… I took to the heart / to be rid of you,” but able to say, “i no longer love you, / warlock, / & i take my bow”—the verse equivalent of the scene in a slasher film where the protagonist has finally dispatched the last monster.

The horror movie analogy is actually rather apt, for Basile’s imagination seems rich in imagery from pop culture, the gothic, and the occult. Motifs of conjuring, spell-casting, herbal remedies, black magic, dismemberment, shape-shifting, witchcraft, and other accoutrements of the unseen are woven through the book like dark threads. “Does this spell work on you?” she asks her tormentor, half-taunting/half-fearful; “are you jealous of me too?” The lines have the anguished, echoing rhythm of hot words spoken in anger or lust.

Indeed, issues of language and control also thrum throughout the book: “i cannot speak. because / I hate when you listen” and “am punished to be quiet”; later, “he made me / make these words / so they would kill me.” In Basile’s imaginative universe, language is defined as a weapon that can be turned against its speaker, but that also becomes the engine of the protagonist’s triumph and liberation.

Any work that performs the action it is describing—that is, that uses language to describe the power of language—is an essentially poetic operation, and in this, Basile’s verbal facility is well used. The verse has an onward-rushing momentum that suggests a spontaneous expression of emotion, but on closer examination, the formal qualities vary quite widely, from open-spaced free verse to mini-blocks of prose poem. If war/lock feels a shade overwrought at times, it does so in service of a fearless sensibility, one that is not afraid of its own heat and speed.

Of more minor note: this amateur connoisseur of chapbook design also found the deckled blue endpapers a pleasing touch.

MICHAEL LINDGREN is a writer and musician whose work has appeared in venues such as The Washington Post, n+1, Brookyn Magazine, and many more. He lives in Jersey City.
• The reviewer purchased it from the publisher because he thought it looked interesting. The reviewer does not know the publisher or the author. • Permalink • Tag: The Volt •

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