A Camouflage of Specimens and Garments
by Jennifer Militello
“In the face of supreme and therefore extreme quietude… Militello’s poems hand us over to that other life we nightly receive in dream.… [T]hese poems don’t merely delve the psyche’s depths, they harrow, and they harrow fantastic.”
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Finalist, 2017 Eric Hoffer Book Award
In her third full-length collection of poems, Jennifer Militello weaves fragmentary letters addressing illness and struggle through ventriloquisms of mythological heroes and dead composers, ancient goddesses and murdered girls. Stylized “dictionaries” open into lay-ered definitions meant like magical clothing or tutelary amulets to provide shelter from a world that cannot be controlled. As the poet stitches together a plethoric identity to ex-plore disguises, A Camouflage of Specimens and Garments casts a smokescreen of selves.
A Dictionary of Faith
Like wind, God eavesdropped in the doorway.
His hybrid anatomy broken. His structured body loose.
God flew, as the last small moths of his lungs and larynx
gave like willows in a basket filled with red birds
where once there were dozens of roses.
As it rained, God’s every dry eye trembled.
The moon’s fronds of empty grew tentative then,
like what stands in for reason when reason is maimed.
An epidemic of eyes, God flew like a surge collapsing,
divided in the listening like a simple skein of wheat.
His most ferocious hounds were fettered,
predators sheltered in the henhouse of the heart.
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“In the face of supreme and therefore extreme quietude… Militello’s poems hand us over to that other life we nightly receive in dream.… [T]hese poems don’t merely delve the psyche’s depths, they harrow, and they harrow fantastic.”—Cate Marvin
“Militello’s poems stun and stupefy, goad and galvanize, illuminate and mystify.”— The Rumpus
“Her poems are paradoxical lyrics—disorienting syntax mixes parts of speech to create strante and uneven shifts of sound and meaning.… Militello explores the irreconcilable collision of body, psyche, and language when none are working as they should.”—Boston Review
“Through haunting language and metaphor, Militello (Body Thesaurus) conjures a third collection that operates as a disturbing representation of mental anguish as it spills into violence. In poems grouped as ‘songs,’ ‘dictionaries,’ or epistles addressed to B, a sequence of speakers meditate on familiar yet foreign images: Red Riding Hood’s grandmother recalls being ravished by the wolf, Artemis lies in wait for prey, Icarus mourns his wings, and Odysseus longs for home. ‘A Dictionary of the Symphony in the Voice of Ludwig van Beethoven’ depicts Beethoven beset by a looming predatory presence that ‘will fling you over its shoulder tarnish you turn you into a schoolboy.’ Meanwhile, the person writing to B clings to sanity in a ‘black trance’ where ‘All I know to hold onto slips. A stitched thread to control each buttonhole’s abyss.’ Poems in the voice of teenage murder victim Marion Parker may be too morbid for some readers, and. Militello’s language can be melodramatic or precious (‘My heart filled with villanelles of longing’). But the collection is largely an exquisite example of the modern gothic: shadowy, beset by menacing weather and violent feelings, and positively bewitching. When Militello writes ‘I want to be anesthesia sly inside the patient,/ counting down to knock her out,’ she describes and demonstrates her own ingenuity at its best.”
— Publishers Weekly