Carolyn Hembree’s debut collection terrifies.
The title character of Skinny leaves the South and a beloved, dying matriarch for New York City, a “far-off island dream.” Through an expansive dramatis personae, the poems offer polyphonic responses to harrowing encounters. Here is a life at once immediate and recognizable yet imbued with nostalgia: silent film intertitles, biplane transmissions, the broken Welsh of ancestors. This collection incorporates ekphrastic works, prose poems, dramatic monologues, odes, elegies, a pastoral, and a word problem, among other free verse experiments. Despite familiar allusions and forms, the work is otherworldly—regionalisms of the Deep South combine with the idiolect of a very particular family to form a singular grammar as fractured as the landscape it describes.
Praise for Skinny
“I am reminded of a ball of heat lightning that shot through our house one summer when I was young. That charge stayed in the air and made us feel like we had snapped suddenly awake. Skinny wakes us with that blue coil, “fast under a low ceiling,” shooting from sideboard to curtain rod to screendoor in one brilliant flash, electrifying everything. It sounds like bottle-rockets are going off, and I feel the thrill and terror of living inside each explosive line.“—D.A. Powell
“Carolyn Hembree rips into language almost physically to make new phrasing out of her Southern lexicon.Skinny, an autobiographical tour de force, arrives full of swagger: In this debut volume of poems, Hembree gets as close to the original words for things as I can remember anyone doing in a long time.”—Jane Miller
“Hembree’s poetics and Skinny’shonesty direct us to language in the raw, a space integral to the human experience and to poetry in large, a museum antechamber of the self where one is in incessant, powerful dialogue with the world around us, the world that has been, and the world that could be. Like Twombly’s scribbles and smears, Skinny challenges the observer, ultimately having the effect that challenging art has: the expansion of art, language, and the self.” —Megan Bell