cover image Play Dead

Play Dead

Francine J. Harris. Alice James (Consortium, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (100p) ISBN 978-1-938584-25-1

Though some poets revel in emotional chaos and seek an existential abyss, Harris (allegiance) works in her second collection to peel back the superficial aspects of subjects such as emerging girlhood, sex, romantic relationships, and love, exposing raw wounds and snarling demons. She bends language to her will, generating atmospheric tension as she teases out each line’s deepest sonic qualities: “I sling open one eye to the white/ whale of you.” Harris doesn’t aim to capture the universal; rather, her poems insist that one person’s means of survival can have powerful, deleterious effects on an unfortunate other. For example, in “Pink Pigs,” a four-part poem interspersed throughout the book, Harris, through careful syntax and precise diction, crafts a minimalist yet full-blooded scene that charts the emotional devastation and psychological resignation of a 13-year-old girl. The header and footer of that poem, a repeated and unbroken sequence of the word girl, starts out as a whisper and ends in a predatory moan. Poems such as “A Brief History of Scent” present the world as a two-faced antagonist, threatening to devour innocent schoolgirls, little children who will grow to become mothers, because it’s both a duty and fate. Harris is a keen observer of self and other, writing not as a distant anthropologist, but as an empathetic and silent witness. (Apr.)