September picks: Duplan, Szymaszek, and Bartlett

Kenna O'Rourke

Three great 2016 titles from women poets reviewed in brief this month.

Take This Stallion
, Anaïs Duplan (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2016)

Anaïs Duplan’s poems are witty and bold, inhabiting a speculative underbelly of pop culture, framed by pictographs in dialogue (“∆ said to, ‘Did I hit an animal back there?’ //said, ‘No, don’t look back.’”). At times dark, ambling, and surreal — hinting at trauma, microaggression, nightmare, longing — these poems captivate in wily turns of phrase, unexpected humor: “Do you ever look for bodies on the water / or do you prefer to have fun with friends”; “Here’s something I’ve always wondered about Siamese twins: / everything.” Seventy-one pages feel too short a space to spend with Duplan’s words. 


Journal of Ugly Sites, Stacy Szymaszek (Fence Books, 2016) 

Journal of Ugly Sites’s running themes include the death of a beagle and thyroid problems; Stacy Szymaszek records the everyday in a year of bad days. A slow burn of a tell-all, Szymaszek does not hesitate to make things personal — to share with readers what only diaries should know. In the process, we feel not only the ugliness of NYC sites, but the ugliness of harsh reality, become almost (but not quite) beautiful in this form. The poems become a source of control that contrast Szymaszek’s lack thereof; “trying to accept that I’m no longer omnipotent,” she writes, “a / power I had to revoke because it was blowing out / my adrenal gland.”


Sometimes We Walk With Our Nails Out, Sarah Bartlett (Subito Press, 2016)

There is something casually anxious motivating Sarah Bartlett’s poems — something like young love or a search for self, but without any of the treacly baggage that often accompanies writing on such matters. Bartlett is frank and unapologetic: “When I leave notes / on your pillow it’s supposed to be a gimmick”; “I am lonely / but not for you.” Her poems flow into each other seamlessly, an odd collection of fake moustaches, tight pants, fish, Freud, cells. Beneath a surface cynicism Bartlett has clawed her way to a place that is inarticulate and deep.