Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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Hoffman ponders the wires of the world we live in, by which I mean those invisible wires that stitch us to ourselves and each other, to need: “the phone vibrates and your name appears,” she writes, or, “all you ever wanted from me is the fuck you licked from your fingers.” These are wires that drag themselves across our flesh, or that we, despite the pain, drag ourselves across. These are wires that crackle: “The panic button of right now trigger-locked to my finger” or “My magic 8 ball said, Ask me again when you’re sober” or “This is not about you / and neither am I.” The narrators of these poems, like marionettes tangled up in their own wires, stumbling, tripping, trying to slice themselves free, negotiate a world of longing and of loss—“Like the canyon, I am shaped by what I miss” and “I am calling on the God of not always this.” The characters of these pieces hear the sounds of housekeys in the eyes of every stranger at the lesbian bar, wander cities that smell of urine or the salt drunk girls lick from their wrists:
...I wore a dress of pennies. I thought of pictures
in the zoo of dead seals with their guts slit open, coins
Love, like a coil of razor-wire, cutting in so many ways, from memories of lonely childhood lunches to the currently unrequited but never quite gone away. The longings of Home Ec classes past mingle with the barbs of politics, of rape crisis hotlines and the contempt of other women to the very idea, to the sounds of Occupy protestors drowned by the lull of consumer culture. Pain, too, from the acceptance—partial but not incomplete—of parents, even as the world screams headlines assaulting the humanity of your identity. One poem here addresses how only in 2011 did the United Kingdom’s Department of Health lift the “ban on gay men donating blood, as long as they haven’t had sex with another man in the past year.” Another reimagines the Biblical from the point of view of Miriam, who sees the plague of rivers-turned-to-blood not “as malice” but with feminine appreciation for “the thick song / whispering lullabies to the reeds as it crawled past.” Yet another laments that “I’ve said yes so many times, / it sometimes sounds like an alarm clock buried / in the ocean....”
The strongest poems here speak from the bottom of that ocean, from that most personal place, addressing phones full of illuminated names the narrator can’t bear to delete or exegeting phrases markered onto bathroom walls as oracular. Emoticons are reinvented by context and feeling: “I just swallowed a staircase. / I’m unsure of things. / She still hasn’t called. / I just say an infomercial featuring leopard unitards. / Nelly muzak is playing in this elevator.” The world we know is seen through the glare of need:
The brightest sky is a blindfold stitched
with black rain. I think of the dog pacing
by the back door. Control clocks the moan
sprinting past the flinch....
And the next girl, already with a mark pro and con by simple virtue of her not being the previous girl, is also “just a girl. Not sleeping pill, not happy pill. Not bourbon / Band-Aid.”
Official Joanna Hoffman Web Site
Official Sibling Rivalry Press Web Site