clash books

Heaven is a Photograph by Christine Sloan Stoddard

heaven

By Alex Carrigan

In her newest poetry and photography collection from CLASH Books, author, artist, and filmmaker Christine Sloan Stoddard draws the connection between the creative processes behind creating a photograph and the necessity of female expression. Through a series of poems written from the viewpoint of a female photographer, Stoddard presents sixteen poems, each paired with an original photograph, that underscores the challenge and audacity that comes from capturing both literal and figurative essence through the camera’s lens.

The collection opens with “The Dead Girl Artist’s Scientific Method,” where Stoddard writes “have you ever read / an artist statement / written by a cadaver?” This long poem examines the photographer as both the subject and creator of the picture, especially as she is viewed by a man who doesn’t love her or appreciate her artfulness. “was it my curly hair? / did he long for straight? / was it my mayan nose? / did he want a ski slope? / was it my ripe olive tone? / did he prefer peaches and cream?” she writes.

Other pieces in the collection tackle similar subjects, with the narrator of the poems examining her subjects, who are often female, and attempts to capture them as photography subjects and as people in her sphere. Many of the poems in the collection attempt to examine hallmarks of girl- and womanhood, such as playing with dolls (“barbies only ever owned / a point-and-shoot / for photo albums / never seen beyond home” from “Daughter Behind the Lens”), attending important social events (“do not bring cameras to parties / people want freedom in / their tomfoolery” from “Camera for Company”), and continuing one’s education in more intense environments (“the lens obsessed / do not choose / medicine or law” from “BFA”).

The photographs Stoddard included with each poem are also quite fascinating. Many of the pictures are created through found objects and a good number of them seem to be taken on the same rooftop setting. Many of the objects are transformed with paint and other materials, and finding the connection between the pictures and the accompanying poems is quite a fascinating challenge for the reader, but also quite illuminating of Stoddard’s artistic eye.

For example, the poem “BFA” features a photo of a framed piece of artwork depicting an octopus, its canvas and frame looking as tagged as the brick wall behind it. The poem features lines like “the relentless grip of / societal expectations / could shatter / the skull” and “four years and / nobody knows / what is next,” which seem appropriate for a creature known for camouflaging and for its many suckered tentacles. Other pictures in the collection play with the rooftop setting, covering pipes with masks or drawing attention to the deep gray color of the setting.

Heaven is a Photograph puts the reader behind, in front of, and inside the camera through Stoddard’s evocative photography and poetry. Through the lens of her viewpoint character, the collection demonstrates the universal and personal appeal of photography in an impactful and vivid manner. Stoddard describes the art of photography as it relates to creation, legacy and memory in a way that makes the act of clicking the shutter button both a spiritual and artistic act.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Heaven-Photograph-Christine-Sloan-Stoddard/dp/194486637X

Alex Carrigan (@carriganak) is an editor, writer, and critic from Alexandria, Virginia. He has edited and proofed the anthologies ‘CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing’ (C&R Press, 2018) and ‘Her Plumage: An Anthology of Women’s Writings from Quail Bell Magazine’ (Quail Bell Press & Productions 2019). He has had fiction, poetry, and literary reviews published in Quail Bell Magazine, Lambda Literary Review, Empty Mirror, Passionate Chic, Quarterly West, Whale Road Review, ‘Stories About Penises’ (Guts Publishing, 2019), ‘Closet Cases: Queers on What We Wear’ (Et Alia Press, 2020), and ImageOutWrite Vol. 9. You can find his work at carriganak.wordpress.com.

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The Elvis Machine by Kim Vodicka

elvis

By Greg Bem

But at some point, I stop dancing
and start poking meat.

At some point, I stop wondering
and start looking.

(from “High Tea,” page 47)

Kim Vodicka’s third book, The Elvis Machine, is the follow-up to 2018’s rambunctious Psychic Privates. It contains an explosion and a resulting silence—a collection of poems worth feeling uncomfortable by only to slowly be empowered by moments later. Featuring a myriad of ecstatic tones, collages of images and ideas that wander through and between each poem, The Elvis Machine is a collection of intensely beautiful feminist poetry that ruptures and coats. It is a book that takes up time and does not give it back: each poem features narratives with a sense of the imperative—these are Vodicka’s speakers’ moments, at once intimate and relentless.

I wrote a note near the beginning of the book that describes a cursory understanding of how the poetry is working in The Elvis Machine: “balance between delicate and chaotic—juxtaposed.” On one hand, Vodicka reaches a totality that blends between these qualities. But that’s also a superficial way of describing her work. There is much more going on from moment to moment, from poem to poem. The poems’ speakers, which tend to feel both similar and distant from one another, contribute to the collective; The Elvis Machine embodies a choral quality, and with it comes empathy and a sense of reflective endurance.

The rage of the wounded feminine lifts me.

I vow to be a famous mass murderess.

I vow to let you clean up the carnage.

I vow to grasp without ever even reaching.

I vow to wear wicked withc shoes for the rest of my days.

(from “Blue Flowers (Reprise),” page 61)

What is being endured? Systemic misogyny, for one. These poems contain a lot of love, but that love is persistent across time and space of pure, awful agony and difficulty. Plights and oppressions galore await the casual or intentional reader of Vodicka’s works. These bounds never sit still in their horror, their trauma, and any of the bravery behind the confessions. Many of these poems contain language that disturbs, sickens, and twists the guts into a rigidity or spasm. It is the type of work that could force one reader to shake their head in disbelief and another reader to throw up their lunch. Because Vodicka does not hold back.

But she isn’t only out to provide the grotesque. Much of the highlighting concerns active, dynamic sexuality that arouses. The stimulation edges the reader along, maintaining concentration, deepening satisfaction. As rhetoric, as pedagogy, Vodicka’s work is an alignment emphasized by viscera and an ultra-realism. It is this visceral work that produces lingering effects, effects of insight and inspiration. Readers of Vodicka’s previous books will know these feelings well—The Elvis Machine is further refinement of techniques perfected in earlier works.

But I will fight to the death
to retain my sensitivity.

Which means I’ll die of love.

Eaten alive by those who say right
but mean wrong.

(from “Babalon Fantasy,” page 114)

Despite the work being “ultra-real,” some readers may relate and feel the resulting elements of survival contained within. That chorus calling for new minds and voices within the readership. The stories, while holding that imperative, are much more than a series of urgent “calls to arms.” They are also uniquely positioned as vignettes that illustrate a fluidity concerning sexuality and relationships. Vodicka’s speakers blend in their own form of identity collage. This is a unique collective of humanity that, while at its core resembling a distinct feminine energy, contains many folks with many identities. That fluidity moves through gender, moves through sexuality and sexual orientation, and is wonderfully queer. The risks that are taken here, in what sometimes comes off as a freefall or dance between each poem, are immense. But Vodicka’s poetry satisfies that immensity with humor, ironic crassness, and a profound attraction toward the guttural. Some of the most complex differences between humans end up being solved with our shared ability to laugh, mate, orgasm, and produce bodily substances.

What The Elvis Machine reflects is a commitment to exploring the self of selves. Vodicka’s work is an ongoing epic meta-narrative that fits well into an era of distraction and hyper-consumption. I believe it carries a poetics that embraces technology and emerged senses of knowing with unsolved, systemic issues faced by women for millennia. I believe it also connects to the issues faced by trans, gender fluid, and gender nonconforming folks as well.

Cuz the moon is a rogue,
and the muse I on repeat,
and my gaze has been thusly affected.

Respectable receptable, man-infested.

Kingly queen with delusions of infamy.

(from “Milk PTSD,” page 41)

Vodicka’s poems are not solely concerned with solving those issues but rather, like the trickster hero(ine), concerned with pointing them out and doing so in a powerful, incessant, and beautiful way. The language is as crisp as a lake’s edge, as rigid as daggers, and it sweetens the world like a brief lick of blood. It is poetry capable of challenging and chiseling. It calls and it crumbles. And it knows what it is capable of from cover to cover, allowing risk to manifest as subtle, tense experimentation.

Whether readers have a history with feminism or have never heard the word, whether they have read feminist poetry or have never imagined they could, The Elvis Machine is a great place to start. And with as many doors as it shuts in its forceful, chaotic elegance, it opens just as many for us to depart, screaming all along, only to sit still, rest, grow, and sigh empathetically. Vodicka has once again, through effort that bridges gaps between chaos and delicacy, between formalities and madness, crafted a gift of a collection that will educate, will infatuate, and will salivate the gentle reader’s understanding of, and belonging to poetry.

You can find the book here: https://www.clashbooks.com/new-products-2/kim-vodicka-the-elvis-machine

Greg Bem is a poet and librarian living on unceded Duwamish territory, specifically Seattle, Washington. He writes book reviews for Rain Taxi, Yellow Rabbits, and more. His current literary efforts mostly concern water and often include elements of video. Learn more at gregbem.com.

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