Reviewed by Diane R. Wiener
Editor’s Note: This review includes content on ableism, houselessness/homelessness, assault, other forms of structural and societal violence, interpersonal violence, graphic language (cited directly from the text under review), and other subjects that some readers may find triggering.
Autonomous Press, NeuroQueer Books, and Argawarga Press proudly publish work by emergent and seasoned writers—focusing on “giving platforms to talented writers who are often beginning their careers” (as the press’s materials, including their wonderful bookmarks, proudly state) and centering the creativity, wisdom, innovativeness, and expertise of Queer, Neurodivergent, and Neuroqueer people of myriad backgrounds, experiences, and identities. In these and many other respects, the Spoon Knife series, and the presses and imprints writ large, are Wordgathering’s admired and respected peers in a publishing world that too often disregards or otherwise deprioritizes writing by Disabled and Crip creatives.
As Nick Walker notes in the foreword to the current volume, “The Spoon Knife anthology is a peculiar sort of animal,” owing, in part, to its genre combinations, genre sequences, and genre blendings. It is indeed difficult, at times, to determine if what is being encountered is historical fact, personal intrigue and entreaty, post-apocalyptic cli-fi, fantasy, or a combination. Importantly, figuring out etiologies and taxonomizing genres are less important than embedding oneself fully in the work, as readers who are open-hearted and curious.
Time and place structures are tossed to multi-flavored winds in this collection, in particular, as they are annually in and by Spoon Knife (I wonder if the plural is Spoon Knives?). This purposeful genre mash-up, the organization of the volume itself, and the overall creative intentions—with their very broad and sweeping bandwidth—make possible the addressing of topics that certainly must never be invalidated or circumvented, including bullying, racism, oppression in all of its forms, aggression, and gaslighting, particularly of/toward Neuroqueer, Neurodivergent, and Disabled BIPOC people.
With Athena Lynn Michaels-Dillon and Remi Yergeau, Walker (who edited the current volume, with Andrew M. Reichart and Dora M. Raymaker) coined the term Neuroqueer. Readers who are unfamiliar with the term are encouraged to visit “Neuroqueer: An Introduction,” originally published on May 2, 2015, on what is now known as Dr. Nick Walker’s Neuroqueer site (the subtitle of or for which, in an earlier incarnation, was “Dr. Nick Walker’s Notes on Autism, Neuroqueering, & Self-Liberation”; the website used to be called “Neurocosmopolitanism”).* As discussed in the introductory article/post, Michaels-Dillon, Walker, and B. Martin Allen, among others, “founded the independent and writer-owned publishing house Autonomous Press, and its imprint NeuroQueer Books, to publish books with neuroqueer themes (including the annual Spoon Knife multi-genre neuroqueer lit anthology).”
Body-mind variance, fatphobia, hiding, passing, curing, deviance, intersectionality, street life, drug addiction, abuse, and rape are all themes, among many others, in this powerful collection. Liminality, a term used to describe the in-between-ness of ritual (and later extended to life events, far broader than formally ritualistic ones), as coined by mid-20th century interpretive anthropologist Victor Turner, is a great fulcrum, here, far more than a merely apt locus from or through which to explore the anti-ableist, head-spinning poetry and prose in this collection.
Blue-skinned Marvel X-Men, Mystique and Nightcrawler, famously discussed why mutant passing shouldn’t be necessary, as underscored in X2 (the 2003 film directed by Bryan Singer). In this often cited cinematic scene, Nightcrawler (played by Alan Cumming), a circus performer who is covered with angelic symbols, and who moves through the world with cloven feet, pointed ears, fangs, and a daemon’s tail, asks shape-shifter Mystique (played by Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), since she can become or sound like anyone, “why not stay in disguise all of the time?” Mystique, who has just flawlessly impersonated Nightcrawler’s German pronunciation of English, answers, her orange cat eyes beaming and unblinking, “Because we shouldn’t have to.” Mystique and Nightcrawler’s dialogue is present in a reframed version, in Alyssa Gomez’s breathtaking story, “Light Was Her Burden,” featuring school children who take “Suppression” classes in order to learn to control their mutations and reluctantly assimilate. Rebellion happens in this and other stories, in abundance. Lucero is talking with classmate Felix about the strength it takes just for them to be themselves, and Felix responds, “But we shouldn’t have to.” If I hadn’t already been fully embedded in the book, by then, that was the line that brought me home.
The poems are varied and brilliant, such as “Emotion regulation is a fucking PhD program,” by Lucas Scheelk, which makes plain the efforts that Neurodivergent people must often make to manage in a neurotypical world that is not built or designed with us in mind. Poems seamlessly shift from stories and stories from poems, fluid and validating, at times eerie, at turns haunting. Being outsiders as insiders together, refutation, reclamation, and abjection are common themes in speculative fiction—even work written by “normals,” to be sure—but these topics find new and robust meanings, herein.
Each piece has the contributor’s bio immediately following the work, and there is a feeling of intimacy that is different from an anthology with bios at the end. The authors are listed alphabetically by first name, on the back cover. All of these choices are purposeful and keep the promise that this press is author-run, author-owned, and author-prioritizing. Athena “Tina” Monday tells the readers in their bio, following the powerhouse poem, “I Am a Garden”: “I’m a woman and a faggot and I am not going to stop writing mlm erotica just because I got my name changed and went on estrogen. Fuck you if you don’t like it…”
While the idioms are at times familiar, there is no predictability in these resplendent, often profound tales and poems of aliens and alienation, environmental degradation, survival on the street, and families facing loss and transformation. The idioms, in all instances, are made anew and are awash with often proud alinearity. The stereotype that Neurodivergent folx are ideal poets and writers, especially in alinear genres, will not be lost on close readers. And, the neurotypicals may have trouble keeping up, but I encourage them to try.
Gender nonbinary characters are unsurprisingly aplenty in this collection, including in Cody Goodfellow’s horrifying, mind-bending, and riveting “Burning Names” (about hustlers and hackers, classism, and abuse—among other subjects), “Gender-Monsters at the Edge of the World” by Dora M. Raymaker (where the past is the future—and other wild things happen), and Noley Reid’s assertive and gorgeous family drama, “Sick Days” (which makes plain that even the littlest kids have the right not to be forced to live via cisgender norms—when cis is not what they are). The domestic, local worlds shine through the distancing devices that speculative fiction and poetry make powerfully plausible. As Jessica Goody’s poetic protagonist advises us in the opening lines of “Certain Doorways”:
Behind each wooden portal,
between brass digits and flowerpots,
lives occur. Auras of lamplight illuminate
domestic scenes like something in a play.
This collection is other-worldly, while wholly earthly, in many more ways than one. So, grab a cup of tea with your eyestalk, unfold your ribbed wings, and immerse yourself in the sea nearby the talking, thoughtful fish. You might want to check out Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, afterwards—but definitely not straight, and surely without a chaser.
*Note: This paragraph was updated slightly in November 2021, as requested by Autonomous Press representatives, in order to reflect nominal changes in and links on Walker’s website as well as to share the accompanying updated information with Wordgathering readers.
Title: Spoon Knife 5: Liminal
Editors: Andrew M. Reichart, Dora M. Raymaker, and Nick Walker
Publisher: Autonomous Press
About the Reviewer
Diane R. Wiener became Editor-in-Chief of Wordgathering in January 2020. A poet since the age of seven, Diane is the author of the full-length poetry collection, The Golem Verses (Nine Mile Press, 2018), and the poetry chapbook, Flashes & Specks (Finishing Line Press, 2021). Diane’s poems also appear in Nine Mile Magazine, Wordgathering, Tammy, Queerly, The South Carolina Review, Welcome to the Resistance: Poetry as Protest, Diagrams Sketched on the Wind, Jason’s Connection, and elsewhere. Diane’s creative nonfiction appears in Stone Canoe, Mollyhouse, and The Abstract Elephant Magazine. Her flash fiction appears in volumes 2 and 3 of Ordinary Madness; short fiction is forthcoming in A Coup of Owls. After serving as Guest Editor for Nine Mile Literary Magazine’s Fall 2019 Special Double Issue on Neurodivergent, Disability, Deaf, Mad, and Crip poetics, Diane was appointed as the magazine’s Assistant Editor. The Founding Director of the Syracuse University Disability Cultural Center (2011-2018), Diane now serves as a Research Professor and as the Associate Director of Interdisciplinary Programs and Outreach at the Burton Blatt Institute (Syracuse University College of Law); she also teaches in the Renée Crown University Honors program. Diane has published widely on disability, pedagogy, and empowerment, among other subjects. She is a proud Neuroqueer, Mad, Crip, Gender Nonconforming, Ashkenazic Jewish Hylozoist Nerd (etc.). Diane blogged for the Huffington Post between May 2016 and January 2018. You can visit Diane online at: https://dianerwiener.com.