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The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison

65 pages
ISBN 978-1-936797-56-1
First Edition
Review Copy: PDF
Tupelo Press
North Adams, Massachusetts, USA
Available HERE
Review by L. A. Lanier

If you’re seeking beautifully pleasant descriptions of nature and nostalgic recounts of a carefree childhood, this collection is not going to be it. The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison possesses its own haunting beauty, by exploring a magical darkness riddled with fitting imagery. Dorset Prize-Winner Maggie Smith, thankfully, does not try to drown the reader in an abundance of warm fuzzies, but extends her hand as one’s guide down the path to mature unveilings of fairytales woven into reflections on youth.

The first piece the book opens with is “Vanishing Point,” and while it did not immediately grab me or get me excited for the work, it certainly set the tone for what could be expected in the coming pages.

When she leaves the path, the forest opens for her
like a picture book minus the story [...]
[...] It’s no way to live. The girl does not know
wickedness when she sees it. What is she doing alone? [...]
(p. 3)

Smith’s poems take on the role of raconteur relaying tales set among the creepy encounters of forests to those of sinister family relations. Witches and beasts aren’t called upon directly, but can be summoned through the reader’s imagination, and while some are written stronger than others, each tries to offer a slice of horror without resorting to overly graphic gore in order to do so.

[...] The moon watches,

eyes rolling as if from behind a painting,
and says, I smell, I smell the flesh of men.

[...]You might want to look away. She cuts off
her finger and turns it inside the keyhole [...]
(from “Seven Disappointments (I),” p. 22-23)

One item of note was the introduction of “Apologue,” a series of eight pieces within the collection deriving their inspiration from Hispanic folktales. These were among some of my favorites, simply because of the added cultural flair and method of storytelling. Their dispersion throughout the book provided a refreshing change of pace by transporting the reader into yet another realm of her fairytale universe. That said, even with a more distinct style, Smith makes them fit into her overall theme and doesn’t let them detract, or distract, too much from her other pieces.

I cannot lie. I wasn’t there, but those who saw it say [...]
[...] Little Horse of Seven Colors,
the devil used your luck to pick his teeth. It was too late
in the quilt of fields, in the chapel, even for the voices
of children [...]
(from “Apologue (2),” p. 13)

Once upon a time, in the times of the angry king, [...]
[...] Little View from a Lit
Ferris Wheel, you know better than to marry anything
that could clamp its jaws on you. How would he sing
your babies to sleep? [...]
(from “Apologue (6),” p. 47)

The collection is separated into two sections, making it easily digestible, and at 65 pages, one could read it in one sitting. So, if you’re looking for poetry that speaks to a more grim sensibility and offers you the kinds of tales that haven’t been manipulated by Disney’s happily ever after, then you’re likely to find at least a few gems in The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison.

L. A. Lanier is a Publicist for Alternating Current Press and a Staff Book Reviewer for The Volt. She is an emerging writer focusing on the mastery of micro/flash fiction and dabbling in poetry. While a bachelor’s in Sociology didn’t quite lend itself to creative writing, she incorporates elements of her studies into her work, one piece of which can be found on Paragraph Planet. If you enjoy her reviews or wish to know more, feel free to visit her site and follow her on Twitter at @TheSquibbler (She assures both are more interesting than this bio.).
• This book was sent to Alternating Current from the author. The reviewer does not know the author or the publisher. • Permalink • Tag: The Volt •

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