Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Lauren Russell, What’s Hanging on the Hush


I am always the woman in red.
I am always huddling in some round room.
Even when I am not wearing red, I am still the woman in red.
To be forever single is like wearing a flag to a funeral.
“It is always more satisfying to harbor a secret crush,” Helen
warned Paris, but neither he nor the thousand ships was listening.
Helen in Egypt’s identity crisis is attributed to the author’s:
“Did you see H.D. in Borderline? She looked like a heroin
addict before heroin was even a thing.” Opted instead
for mediums, furniture rattling, Freud.
“I hear James Franco is playing H.D. in a new bioflick
from Focus Features.” I am confusing the story of H.D.’s death
with the story of Gertrude Stein’s. Bryher a stand-in
for Alice B. Tolkas, gender expression reversed.
Q: What is the answer? A: In that case, what is the question?
I feel least black around those who are confident
of their blackness. I feel less queer when told
I can’t be a butch so I must be a femme.
I am I because I will never learn to drive.
Life structured toward a pedestrian mobility.
I take a bus. Passing under numerous bridges.
And stop outside a museum. Beside a statue of Helen.
In Egypt or Troy? (Do I wear my skin like a costume
or a uniform? Do I wear my hair like a fountain?)

The author of the chapbook Dream-Clung, Gone (Brooklyn NY: Brooklyn Arts Press, 2012), Pittsburgh poet Lauren Russell’s full-length poetry debut is What’s Hanging on the Hush (Boise ID: Ahsahta Press, 2017), a collection of smart, vibrant lyrics that engage sound, rhythm and meaning, each poem provocative and performative and incredibly rich. Rippling outward from the intimate, the poems in What’s Hanging on the Hush are nimble, managing to bounce across melancholy, lists and layers of cultural capital and resonance, as she opens the poem “HAIR,” writing: “Her huffy histrionics take no heckling, that / uppity puffed-up pastiche mishmash. / The hellion half-breed’s / hussyfooted a harvest, a windfall / ensnarled in her miscegenated sassy nappery.”

These poems strike and sing, strike out and revel in the sounds, even as she utilizes the lyric mode to unpack as much information as possible, writing and performing a series of sing-song essay-poems. As she writes to open the poem “ON LONELINESS”: “I am lonely because I could not learn to be a body. / I was born upside down and could never balance on one foot.”

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