Carolyn Hembree

Praise for Skinny

When I read Carolyn Hembree, I am reminded of a ball of heat lightning that shot through our house one summer when I was young. That charge stayed in the air and made us feel like we had snapped suddenly awake. Skinny wakes us with that blue coil, “fast under a low ceiling,” shooting from sideboard to curtain rod to screendoor in one brilliant flash, electrifying everything. It sounds like bottle-rockets are going off, and I feel the thrill and terror of living inside each explosive line.

— D.A. Powell

Carolyn Hembree rips into language almost physically to make new phrasing out of her Southern lexicon. Skinny, an autobiographical tour de force, arrives full of swagger: “You wouldn’t, Love-/bug, goes the Mother through capped teeth,/on us dare turn.” In this debut volume of poems, Hembree gets as close to the original words for things as I can remember anyone doing in a long time.

— Jane Miller

Skinny [is] a manic “autobiography” of the eponymous character Skinny who seems to pull apart the language (and the world) around her. The book has rhythm and force. Imagine H.D. or Anne Bradstreet reincarnated as a punk-rock goddess and remixing John Berryman’s The Dream Songs through a finely distorted amplifier while spinning cuts of Leontyne Price on a DJ kit—but, you know, recorded as a poem. This one will keep you up.

— Jake Adam York

In her first full-length collection, Hembree extends her unmistakable voice and lightning-quick vision (tinged with a lucid, wry affection) into areas of American life too often left unlit. The voice is Whitmanesque, flowing through barriers of time and space as well as class and gender, willing to illuminate and love the darker and more dubious identities we’re capable of inhabiting, making a compelling and ultimately redemptive music of our secret hopes and raw grief. The poems in Skinny are smart, lively, original, and both wicked and tender: it’s a book to live in, to read and reread for its deep-rooted sense of time and place as well as the steadily inventive writing. Over and over we see the speaker’s effort at toughness crash into vulnerability—while an unforgettable music stamps these lines on the heart: “Remembering is / like putting a feather underneath / the skull…

— Laura Mullen

Skinny (Kore Press) dazzles, sparks, creates its own undertow and pulls us down, in, under the tides of memory and love, of lost things, old selves, the collision of what was and what is. A vivid revision of the Southern Gothic in fractured, fragmented narrative: we follow Skinny as she makes, takes, loses her way and finds it. Or not. “My whole body’s a hand inside the hole of some clock reaching–“

Her language pulls itself apart and reknits in a wild force, both compassionate and brutal. Her lines lilt and tilt, break hard like waves impossible to ride, the tide on which Skinny and her kin move, Hembree riffing on rhythms, rhymes, sounds, repetition: songs to carry Skinny through her own fits, rowing her way through dreams of fame, Mamie’s decline, the Mother’s vanity and distain — “so you can’t tell / the skin beneath from what’s been laid atop — and the counsels of First Cousin and Bird. “Not your time yet, Skinny.” Maybe. Maybe not. But it is certainly Carolyn Hembree’s time! Skinny is an astonishing debut, fire’s heat and cool water’s sudden quench. Get. This. Book!

— Marthe Reed


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