about the author

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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The Eggshell Skull Rule
A Review of The Eggshell Skull Rule
by Amy Strauss Friedman

Spencer Dew

These are poems in which “there’s no overcoming, / only coping,” a process that, in turn, involves willed denial, erasure. Home, here, is a place one frequently aims to escape from. Dolls are tombs and mirrors prisons, throats catch culprits and abusers, bodies serve as forensic evidence. The prefab structures of the suburbs mask secrets in the scent of glue, snuck pot, and air freshener. Even the most comfortable domestic space has its hidden risks, as when a kitchen designer’s question, “if we wanted an island or a peninsula,” prompts fast currents through archipelagos of thought. Imagery of mothering is linked with smothering, hosts to parasites, bodies to poison. In the most loving of pieces, a lover’s skin tastes like metal. In the more optimistic pieces here, narrators are “grateful for rot,” or contemplate what relics of the past they would save from a fire not to preserve it but because, as one says, “I’ve earned the right / to burn them all myself.”

The title is taken from tort law, from the doctrine that a victim’s unusual frailty cannot be used as a defense against the damage done to them. A person is as broken as a person is broken, and that brokenness is the starting condition for considering consequences. Damage is the unifying theme here, how we cope with or choke on it. One poem declares, “Every life is a Beckett play / clawing toward a Cassavetes film. / Our ceilings are made of mud. / Digging leads to digging / leads to burial.” The mud, of course, is resentment, memory, the trauma of a “dead mother’s ghost” and “chalk outlines of children,” tracks of black tar across honey-colored floors. In the world of this book, “wounds fasten memory,” and scratching at them leads to collapse.

Even hope presents a trap here. One poem, describing shoelaces undone and soaked in rain, reflects the larger attitude toward disavowal’s impossibility, their “moist undoing . . . a claim: Here I am,” like similar reiterating claims across the CNN feed, floods of coffins, or the star-like sparkle of carcasses as the night sky is reimagined as “filled with tiny gurneys” hauling away organs. To hope is to “deliberately mistake” calamity for grace. The bruised wisdom in these poems simultaneously eschews and appreciates this move: insisting that on the one hand, the world is a tumor, bigger than we have with which to imagine, while, on the other, we, like ants, “carry loads / larger than ourselves,” even as such engineering leads, inevitably, to collapse.

Yet the reflex of hope, the sensation of it: these are seen not as naïveté, but as a survival mechanism, futile, but, as with other practices described here—from death metal karaoke to secretly cutting one’s inner thighs—necessary for the “only coping” which is life. This isn’t hope for resurrection, nor the hope of the Obama campaigns; this is a battered, bloody hope, a hope that doesn’t promise resuscitation but offers a shot of oxygen so the dying patient can, at least, cling on for another hour. This is not the hope we once fantasized, even luxuriated in, but, these days, the hope we need: “I thought that hearts were meant to function as uteri / to grow linings that bleed clotty when life won’t adhere / to stall like rusty engines in barren winters / unprepared for the seasonal shift. / Melon-balled, but ready to swell again.”

Official Amy Strauss Friedman Web Site
Official Kelsay Books Web Site

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