Thursday, December 22, 2011



In Paran by Larissa Shmailo
(BlazeVOX [books], Kenmore, NY, 2009)

                                                … The poppies pour

their juice in the red rain which will crack, in time, all o-
ther things. She drinks him with her hands. He follows
with her breast. She sees him with his chest, in this bo-

dy not her own, but which, in the night, is hers. Like the
heat that swells all things, she sings the night with him.
He follows her with his voice; she sees him with her skin

            --“He follows her”

I marvel at the palpability of the passion on the first pages of In Paran; I turn to the back cover, discover that Larissa Shmailo has won awards for her spoken-word work, I remember the aside on the book’s copyright page – BlazeVOX, publisher of weird little books. Nothing weird, nothing little, in this larger-than-life poetry. I wonder what YouTube might yield, and bingo!

On the poet’s website I find OVERTURE For An EXORCiSM; A spoken word poetry with music trailer for Larissa Shmailo's latest CD "Exorcism", a 3-minute performance which includes snippets from some of these jazz-bluesy songs of heady all-consuming love.

And, as even the strongest love can be lost, so the love here is lost and the poetry becomes wanderer in the desert wilderness, Paran; the bereaved narrator desperate in the wasteland of having to continue living life as a human. But the poems display still, vitality, exuberance – these are poems that live up to the insouciance promised by titles such as:

How to Meet and Dance with Your Death (Como encuentrar y bailar con su muerte): A Cure for Suicide – part of this hypnotic, injunction-laden, prose poem appears in the Exorcism trailer I referenced above.

Such too, as: Sea Sic (Readers: please read the stanzas in any order you like).

And there’s the prose poem comprised solely of couple of hundred words, a List of Words Never To Be Used in Poems every one of which proves it sooo must have its place in the poem.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This second section of Shmailo’s collection (entitled, rather intriguingly, Lit Crit) begins with the poem, In Paran, in which the narrator imagines escape from that desert into a land of milk and honey. Following this, two poems that hint at the darker matter of section three, yet to come. Here, a bit from New Life 2…
Imagine that the epoch ends in an idyl. The words that came
In monologues are rain dialogues now. And the flame,
That consumed others better than you, greedily, like logs;
In you it saw little use or warmth, and, like the dogs,
That’s why you were spared, why shrapnel gave you only fear.

The clouds soon disappear, though, with poetry like the marvelously wacky three-page Bloom that riffs on tongue-twistering lines such as these:
All ways a feather: bed your bugs as they bud
Welling roses these sweltering days
Rose roaches blooming by books, near pillows
Blooming by Bloomsday, busting out by June
Busting on Broadway, busting the busts…

which seques later into
(Forests of feathers: naked birds shrieking
Bony birds swooping
Burning birds screaming
Descending like hell)

and finally, after heady verbal ride, to a tart riposte:
But I’m Molly Bloom, I’m a mammal,
I have mammaries, see: This is a bust!
I don’t touch dead birds.

The third and final section of this book bears title, In the World, and as hinted earlier, stares bleakly at the underbelly of what humankind wreaks on humankind. The poetry is commentary on the ways in which people become unhuman, see others as not human, render themselves able to commit unspeakable acts. The two long ballad-like poems that close the collection really enthralled me, had me reading them over and over:

Exorcism (Found Poem), a three-page piece, mourns, with chant-like refrain and repeats, the US massacre at My Lai in 1968:
I stand on holy ground
I stand on holy ground
I stand on holy ground
I stand on holy ground
I stand on holy ground
The troops of C Company killed five to six hundred
The troops of C Company killed five to six hundred
The troops of C Company killed five to six hundred
Civilians on that day

The killings took a long time
The killings took a long time
The killings took a long time
I stand on holy ground
I stand on holy ground
I stand on holy ground
I stand on holy ground.

Immediately after that, How my Family survived the camps, builds its affect with question-filled refrains inserted between the longer narrative stanzas:
How did my family survive the camps?
Were they smarter, stronger than the rest?
Were they lucky?
Did luck exist in Dora-Nordhausen,
Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen?
How did my family survive?
They offered no resistance
Did they collaborate?
Is complicity possible without choice?
How did my family survive?
Survive is not the right word.
I’m alive, my father would say, alive
Alive because I did not die; others died.

Keep breathing, he encouraged me in difficult times,
Keep breathing.

Indeed. Keep breathing. This collection can, in places, take your breath away.


Moira Richards lives in South Africa and hangs out online here and here.

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