Skip to main content

Guest Review: McLoughlin On Sato


Nigel McLoughlin reviews
Badlands
by Aleah Sato

Aleah Sato's (pictured) debut collection pulsates with all-pervasive darkness and the uncanny. The book itself is divided into two parts: Girls Vanishing and Illumine and at 53 poems it reads as a lot more substantial than it looks – largely due to the wide page format holding two columns of poetry per page in many cases.

The reader is never allowed to settle in this collection: the viewpoint changes from character to character, poem to poem, and it builds up to a compendium of female voices, each of whom speak to us of some dark element that paternalistic society demands they repress. There is a razor-like edginess to much of the poetry in this book. There is a sense of the unheimlich in the poems, because the characters are the dark sides of wives and mothers, subverting the whole notion of home-making and the homely, and which unsettle the reader with their honesty. There is a wide spread of character tackled: Eve, witches, mothers who are horrified by the process of birth, women who are repulsed by their own offspring. There is the wife who has been bought by her husband for six traps, and who now contemplates his murder. The domestic is subverted all through the collection, nothing is comfortable, and nothing is allowed to settle.

She pulls the blade from behind
the knotting and touches it. The moose head
smiles. They wait
for the hunter to retire.

("the longest winter" p.53)

The poems often balance on the point at which that which has been repressed comes to the surface and the consequences of that return. These women are feral, hard and often monstrous.

Dog fight women
who snarl and bite all the rest of the bitches
off the prime rib

("Peep Show" p.42)

She is made of tears
and afterbirth
and snow.
She sleeps near the door of every home
and waits for the wilting.

("Evil Mother" p.17)

There are a number of cross connections within the collection – the age 22 seems to be significant in a number of poems, images of blood, bleeding, menstruation, monstrous births and afterbirth, and 'bags of blood' recur throughout the poems with great regularity and help add to the general feel of menace, threat, monstrosity and the uncanny. The characters Sato creates connive, refuse to nurture, and refuse to act the part men demand of them, preferring the part of Lilith, the tempter, or the witch. They take joy and pride in playing out these roles.

The baddest of the bad
know me
girl du jour
leaving her trail of
deep azure

("medea and me" p.35)

The collection is not all doom and seriousness; there are some nice comic touches. The humour is black (or bloody in some cases) as you might expect, but it does much to lift the collection out of its seriousness while still keeping the threat.

on the radio
nothing but Partridge Family
at the hardware store
the only color of paint left
chartreuse

("when things go from bad to worse" p.50)

On the downside, there are some poems which just don't cut it, when the language falls flat; one or two could have been left out of the book with no detriment to the collection.

You've traded in the seventh
attempt
for a cheap shot at my
pride.

Go for broke!

Have at it…

("What a sham" p.59)

Her line breaks are puzzling in places and one is unsure as to why the line is broken at that point (after 'of' or 'my' in examples above and various others). The effect is largely to weaken both lines.

I think the eye of a good, strong editor has been sorely missed. That said, I'm not going to let a minor few gripes colour my perception of the book too much. It's largely successful, for a first collection it's quite achieved, especially these days when many first collections are dominated by self-obsession with the poet's own 'interesting' life. It's nice to see a new poet speak from positions outside their own experience and attempt to re-imagine him or herself in and as 'the other'. I think Sato deserves to be taken up by a larger press, and I'm sure she'd benefit from the third-party editorial process such a press would be capable of providing.


Nigel McLoughlin is an Irish poet, anthologist, and university lecturer currently based in the UK. His most recent collection, Dissonances (2007), was reviewed at Eyewear.
Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

DANGER, MAN

Like a crazed killer clown, whether we are thrilled, horrified, shocked, or angered (or all of these) by Donald Trump, we cannot claim to be rid of him just yet. He bestrides the world stage like a silverback gorilla (according to one British thug), or a bad analogy, but he is there, a figure, no longer of fun, but grave concern.

There has long been a history of misogynistic behaviour in American gangster culture - one thinks of the grapefruit in the face in The Public Enemy, or Sinatra throwing a woman out of his hotel room and later commenting he didn't realise there was a pool below to break her fall, or the polluted womb in Pacino'sScarface... and of course, some gangsta rap is also sexist.  American culture has a difficult way with handling the combined aspects of male power, and male privilege, that, especially in heteronormative capitalist enclaves, where money/pussy both become grabbable, reified objects and objectives (The Wolf of Wall Street for instance), an ugly fus…

AMERICA PSYCHO

According to the latest CBS, ABC, etc, polls, Clinton is still likely to beat Trump - by percentile odds of 66% to 33% and change. But the current popular vote is much closer, probably tied with the error of margin, around 44% each. Trump has to win more key battleground states to win, and may not - but he is ahead in Florida...

We will all know, in a week, whether we live in a world gone madder, or just relatively mad.

While it seems likely calmer heads will prevail, the recent Brexit win shows that polls can mislead, especially when one of the options is considered a bit embarrassing, rude or even racist - and Trump qualifies for these, at least.

If 42-45% of Americans admit they would vote for Trump, what does that say about the ones not so vocal? For surely, they must be there, as well. Some of the undecided will slide, and more likely they will slide to the wilder and more exciting fringe candidate. As may the libertarians.

Eyewear predicts that Trump will just about manage to win th…

SEXTON SHORTLIST!

Announcing the Shortlist for the 2016 Sexton PrizeSeptember 13, 2016 / By Kelly Davio
Eyewear Publishing is pleased to announce the shortlist for the 2016 Sexton Prize. The finalists are, in no particular order, as follows:


THE BARBAROUS CENTURY, Leah Umansky
HISTORY OF GONE, Lynn Schmeidler
SEVERE CLEAR, Maya Catherine Popa
GIMME THAT. DON’T SMITE ME, Steve Kronen
SCHEHERAZADE AND OTHER REDEPLOYMENTS, David McAleavey
AN AMERICAN PURGATORY, Rebecca Gayle Howell
SIT IN THE DARK WITH ME, Jesse Lee Kercheval

The shortlist was selected by Eyewear’s Director Todd Swift with Senior Editor Kelly Davio. Don Share of Poetry Magazine will select the winning manuscript, which will be released at the 2017 AWP conference in Washington, D.C. The winner will be announced in October. 
Congratulations to our finalists!