Reviewed by Diane R. Wiener
Content Warnings: Myriad references to violence, abuse, aggression, harm and self-harm, assault, and substance use, among other subjects.
My chapbook copy came packaged with:
- 1 jam
- 4 stickers
- 5 buttons
- 2 tea bags
These items were indexed neatly for me (by customs), an ironically tidy, plastic bag of accompaniments to a short yet immense NC-17 movie in words, clip art, and collage photographs. The stickers are botanicals and fungi that feel like Lucite bookmarks. There is a fern among the weeds.
Immediately, I felt that I was being asked: What and whom do we feed and which seeds do we sow? The author kindly sent me a Cooper’s Hawk note (on a Sibley postcard).
I read the chapbook having some familiarity with Palaces (Pascale Potvin) from our wonderful engagements in their role as the editor of Wrongdoing Magazine. The body horror was immediately and unsurprisingly evident; innocence is a gruesome lie, as all of these diurnal stories evidence.
The cover echoes the inserts and accompaniments. An excess seeps out of the pages, the stories crawl—unrepentant—out of the past, and the recurring while uniquely formed symbolic and emotive elements in these charismatic, at-turns lurid tales are made literal. Nothing can really be described, adequately, here, however, to address, contend with, or manifest the trauma elucidated in quite the way the author’s stories deliver them relentlessly to and for us as willing readers.
The public domain imagery (by Arthur Rackham, Thomas Pennant, Willem Swidde, Arnold Frans Rubens, and John Hammond) add to the horror-scape as might ventriloquist dolls, clowns, wind-up toys, carousels, and sweet melodies both prominent and backgrounded in a crescendo slasher film.
A deer stares at the reader from underneath the initial invocation: “To the things I still won’t admit.”
A threaded needle appears, a glyph at the top of each page, overlaying the tales, “threaded” through imagery that can be neither easily explained or contained—nor should it be possible to do so, as noted.
There is abundant content on horror and childhood, horror and adolescence, and the muting of nothing and all; and, then, there is the deliberate leaving of the content warnings until the end. The prose is notably a form of innovative horror; there are turns at dada and surrealism co-mingled with deliberate (and deliberative), uber realism.
Poetic prose herein is never prosaic in its delivery of violence or in the varied while uniquely situated narratives. The writer anti-curatively disavows redemption and recovery. You cannot escape—and there’s no reason to try, in other words. Reckoning means facing squarely the exquisite details of cutting, abuses, entrapment, intrusion. The uses of metaphor to address shyness, touch, and coloration are met on equal grounds with movements away from any idioms toward explicit talk about and description of sadism, masochism, cannibalism, self-injury, suicidal ideation, and substance abuse—among other subjects. If you are seeking catharsis, this might be a must-read.
There are a variety of compelling, often fearless lines:
- “You stand flammable before your crowd, and you must go along”
- “I die of laughter, though not my own, and there is another long intermission”
- “Every teenager went through what I did”
I appreciate, in particular, the use of strategic italics, the inclusion of list poems, and the deliberately messy diary-like entries within this diary-like chapbook. (Yes, it’s quite “meta-.”)
Raise a glass under the sun and place both above the words so they burn brightly. Brutal honesty deserves nothing less. And neither does an undermining of sanism, which is key to this chapbook’s goals and accomplishments.
Title: Folktales for the Diseased Individual: Personal Essays
Publisher: Pascale Potvin
About the Reviewer
Diane R. Wiener (she/they) became Editor-in-Chief of Wordgathering in January 2020. She is the author of The Golem Verses (Nine Mile Press, 2018), Flashes & Specks (Finishing Line Press, 2021), and The Golem Returns (swallow::tale press, 2022). 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, the Kalonopia Collective’s 2021 Disability Pride Anthology, and elsewhere. Her creative nonfiction appears in Stone Canoe, Mollyhouse, The Abstract Elephant Magazine, and Pop the Culture Pill. Diane’s flash fiction appears in Ordinary Madness; her short fiction is published in A Coup of Owls. Diane served as Nine Mile Literary Magazine’s Assistant Editor after being Guest Editor for the Fall 2019 Special Double Issue on Neurodivergent, Disability, Deaf, Mad, and Crip poetics. Diane has published widely on Disability, education, accessibility, equity, and empowerment, among other subjects. She is a proud Neuroqueer, Mad, Crip, Genderqueer and Enby, Ashkenazi Jewish Hylozoist Nerd (etc.) who is honored to serve in the nonprofit sector–including as a Zoeglossia Board member. You can visit Diane online at: https://dianerwiener.com.