cover image Lethal Theater

Lethal Theater

Susannah Nevison. Ohio State Univ, $16.95 (78p) ISBN 978-0-814255-16-2

The title of Nevison’s second collection (after Teratology) is drawn from ethnographer Dwight Conquergood’s article “Lethal Theatre: Performance, Punishment, and the Death Penalty.” In these poems, Nevison leads us behind the scenes of a part-researched, part-imagined American prison system: “In the surgical theater, draw back the curtain so one can see the scene as it’s been staged. Drape a sheet over the body before you begin.” Nevison explores moments in history when prison inmates participated in dangerous medical experiments, such as the dermatological testing that occurred from the 1950s to the ’70s in Philadelphia. While Nevison’s first collection explored disability—including her own—through a zoomorphic lens, comparisons between prison inmates and animals do not prove as affecting in this collection: “The bars lash light across his pupils, eyes unshining, unlike those of better animals who stalk at night.” Elsewhere, the incarcerated are described as “men deemed beyond/ repair work their daily recognitions:/ they toil and repeat their movements,/ until they replicate an old domestic rite,/ how wild dogs came down the mountains/ to sleep beside us, how over time/ we let them.” At a time when writers and readers are questioning the appropriation of others’ voices in poetry, this collection provides fertile ground for conversation. (Feb.)