Unapologetic, unrepentant, wild-as-weeds and willing to swallow any bitter insect on a dare, to eat whatever crawls beneath her fingernails, Jessica Walsh’s girl-turned-woman speaker is refreshingly “impassable feral,” and her List of Last Tries sings her ballad, a battle cry, a fable for our times. And at its center is a woman who doesn’t seek redemption, won’t apologize for her unsmiling, her letting the stray neighborhood cats “waste to wormy street cat weight,” won’t pull the weeds, “will not respond to reason,” and refuses to play along to any “meter man” the town may send with “all his broken sentences.” In a time where the literary world condemns our unlikable characters and politicians tell us to get our coat hangers ready, Walsh responds with a powerful girl/woman indeed: “a woman / deadly/alone / ready to announce herself / all she has been called: / freak witch murderer curse.” The startling, haunting, and empowering world of Walsh’s collection is “like holding a paper doll / against a sun-cut window / seeing a tiny heart beating / and feeding it all to a shredder”—dark and engaging, this collection upholds storytelling as the ultimate truth, and even then, a woman can withhold as a sign of her own strength, as Walsh well knows: “I wanted little: to tell a story / and keep parts of it to myself.” –Jenn Givhan, Landscape with Headless Mama, Girl with Death Mask
Jessica Walsh’s List of Last Tries is a miracle of focus, a sustained gothic nursery rhyme that describes a girl’s coming of age and coming into power, for which she is shunned and exiled as freak, witch, and murderer. She “split(s) worms lengthwise,” “pop(s) open cow eyes,” and even eats a bug in defiance of the conventional shrieks of other girls. Her mother “sav(es) grocery money for slipcovers” but our girl is an unmaskable stain, a paper doll with a beating heart fed to the shredder. Later, when she is “a woman without people” in another town, she makes her living “as professional hag”—“I oracle,” she writes—and tends the border between wild and tame. List of Last Tries is a captivating female picaresque, each poem taking a step deeper into marginality’s fierce power. When Walsh’s speaker breaks the spine of Poems for Every Occasion and, finding nothing to help her there, burns it, she does what witches do—she concocts her own volume of myths and enchantments. The result is the book that you are holding in your hands.—Diane Seuss, Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl, Four- Legged Girl, Pulitzer Prize Finalist
Jessica Walsh’s The List of Last Tries embodies the uncanny seamlessly, unnervingly, and with delightful swagger. The body anchoring these poems is defiantly female; the speaker is feminine on her own enraged, macabre, fearless terms. She amplifies her awkwardness, anxiety, interpersonal missteps, abandonment, and solitude in order to weaponize them against anyone who would stand too close for the wrong reasons. This is a consciousness that offers unwavering scrutiny through the dissection of animal organs; who determinedly cultivates species of invasive weeds, while a tenacious sense of inertia builds into something like power; and who pauses to note, pleasantly, how half-melted dairy enhances the chilling indulgence of consuming a recently-beating heart. This book opens again and again like an unlit doorway in front of you, and the presence floating inside dares you to walk through it. Walk through it. —Fox Frazier-Foley, The Hyrdromantic Histories and Like Ash in the Air After Something Has Burned
On How to Break My Neck:
“Kinetic, wary, tense with language that switches gears, contradicts itself, Jessica Walsh’s How to Break My Neck is a collection that makes us readers hold on tight. From the outset the trajectory is ‘doomward,’ pronounced by science and effected by clueless lovers, ‘prison tourists,’ or dystopian figures that lurk about with clipboards, spreading rumors. Nancy Reagan keeps her skirts from flapping in the breeze with drapery weights, but not much else is anchored here. Too much is at stake; too much already lost to a past that needs us ‘to say how lovely’ and the realization that we are ‘failing at this human business.’ We humans ‘may think we’re due some mercy,’ but we’d best think again. Fortunately, thinking itself and the poet’s wonderful wit make for a bracing, if breakneck, ride. The Sixth Extinction has found its poet, and she is us.” –Terry Blackhawk, author of The Dropped Hand and The Light Between
“The poems in Jessica Walsh’s How to Break My Neck are alive, visceral, and softly twitching. Each section beginning with different famous last words, these poems interrogate hard-hitting themes of purpose, mortality, and legacy with beautifully playful language. Whether discussing summer camp or a shark in a tsunami, these poems illuminate what it feels like to live, to be breakable.” –David Rawson, author of A Jellyfish for Every Name and F***head.
The Division of Standards, paypal.me/JessicaWalsh ($8.00, shipping included)
“The poems of Jessica L. Walsh spring from a ‘place of myth.’ Though much of her work is steeped in the surreal, it is grounded in the small, sharp details of our everyday world. She writes compellingly of love and of loss. She may surrender ‘to the hungry ghosts of her path’ but—as an accomplished poet—will always continue to ‘dream of dreams.'” –Susan Terris
“‘Everything shredded is beautiful,’ says the narrator in Jessica Walsh’s collection of unsettling and unsettled poems. Reading these disassembled experiences, reassembled into poems rich with meaningful dissonance, is not unlike coming across a scene weeks later where we wonder, ‘What happened here?’ We are reading within what’s left. This is a world where we wander within regret. This is a world shredded, and we are left to survive; maybe if we’re lucky, to make the best of it; if luckier still, discover that we can be humane within it.” –Jack Ridl
Knocked Around, paypal.me/JessicaWalsh ($8.00, shipping included)
My first chapbook, Knocked Around focuses on the anxieties of forging a new identity as a mother.