GASH ATLAS is a nightmarish cartography of life in and beyond the Trump era. Through poetic and visual “maps,” this collection surveys the cultural present while folding back nested histories of personal and cultural violence this moment contains. Emerging from this landscape is the character of Christopher Columbus, a simultaneously historical and surreal figure of colonial and sexual terror who has become omnipresent, infiltrating multiple institutions including the White House, the police, the TSA, the University, and the family home itself. As the book’s speaker, a young white mother, works to resist her own complicated entanglement with Columbus, she becomes increasingly aware of her complicity in the violence he performs. A terrifying catalog of cultural wrongs leads to an intimate examination of the speaker’s relationship with her Black family: “I protect my children / from the world / that includes me.” Combining the visceral images of Sarah Kane and the formal play of Douglas Kearney, Lawson’s debut collection pushes the boundaries of poetry and politics in a voice that is at once raw, urgent, and poignantly human. Gash Atlas stares hard into the heart of atrocity, and refuses to shy away when that critique turns inward.
Selected by Eric Hunt for the Kore Press Institute Poetry Prize.
“Gash Atlas gives us a map of words—the physical and philosophical language—to navigate a visceral reckoning. History and the present move insidiously through bodies that serve as “soft / places to plant menace.” There is relentless difficulty, complexity, setbacks, toughness, rage. There’s hard humor alongside the exhaustion of everyday fear. Actual and symbolic horror, borne and delivered through the tender precarity of motherhood and violently performative femme-presence, show us the unsustainable cost of institutional force. How intimate it is, how prevalent, how invasive even to one’s own private thoughts—“I have a fantasy of lying down in snow and not being.” Jessica Lawson’s poems, images and stagings take the pulse of existence and offer a bold, intimate conversation that shows us just how close we—humans—are to the ultimate wreck, if we continue charting our world according to the persistent peril of ignorance.”—Khadijah Queen, author of I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men & What I Had On
“Behind every great man/ is too much forgiving/ and an awl of blood” writes Jessica Lawson in Gash Atlas, a collection that erodes the statue Christopher Columbus has erected like a gash in each subjectivity colonized by powerful men. Lawson has given us poems that strike a balance between daring to ask the urgent questions and posing them with the care of one who knows how language often operates as a colonial mode.”—Raquel Salas Rivera, author of lo terciario/ the tertiary and while they sleep (under the bed is another country)
“Everybody knows the littlest cunts are the most vicious, while the splayed cunt entails a threat to all daddy-centric origins of the world. In Gash Atlas, Jessica Lawson turns the log-book of patriarchy inside out, recharting accounts of exploitation and domination from the perspective of the gash-bearing speaker who devours on continuously inverting, infinitesimalizing scales. Lawson’s occulted turn-tabling summons Kathy Acker, Aase Berg, Hiromi Ito, the Medusa, and countless live-and-dead ancestresses to the tireless work of refusal-as-survival, of invagination-as-revolution.”–Joyelle McSweeney, author of Toxicon and Arachne
Jessica Lawson (she/her/hers) is Pushcart-nominated writer, teacher, and activist. Raised in the Midwest and now based in Denver, she holds a B.A. from Smith College, a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa, and an M.F.A. from the University of Colorado-Boulder, where she served as an editor for Timber Journal. Her chapbook, Rot Contracts, (Trouble Department 2020) examines the heated aftermath of family rupture through the cold lens of the law, and her other writings have appeared in The Rumpus, Dreginald, Entropy, The Wanderer, and elsewhere. She is a queer single parent of three children.
Follow Jessica: www.lawsonlit.com
Author photo by Jay Halsey. Book cover artwork by Sally Geier