Sundress Publications, 2017
The publishing collective Sundress routinely releases stunning works of poetry and fiction. It is one of few predominantly woman run and pro-woman presses in the literary landscape. However, Sundress isn’t woman only, rather their “policy is non-discriminatory and focused on promoting excellent creative work independent of the age, race, sex, gender, class, religion, culture, social status, sexual orientation, or country of origin of its creator(s).” Frequently, the works they promote are quietly profound such as Colleen Abel’s digital chapbook Deviants.
There are eight poems and a long piece of creative nonfiction (‘Fat Studies,’ which Roxane Gay named runner-up in the literary journal Phoebe’s 2015 contest) that make up this free to download PDF ebook. Abel’s poetry here is centered, grounded in the body, and specifically, the female body. At times, this body is the beheld but nearly always Abel poetry subverts the gaze implicating the beholder in a moral maneuver as in the opening poem ‘The Painter’s Model,’ “His pleasure was amplified/by my pleasure.”
As well as in ‘In the Gallery of Statues & the Hall of Busts’ where the poem’s speaker seems to inhabit both the sculptures and the observers, “Stupid/peopled highway, corridor of cocks and marble,/don’t you know a reflection cannot possibly care for a reflection.” The melding of what is seen with seer gives each of these poems a quality provoking readers into arousal and shame. Not necessarily bodily shame or sexual shame but, I’d contend, the moral shame of realizing just deep one is embroiled in the act of objectification of not just art but real, living persons (others and oneself).
This is perhaps best seen condensed in the erotic poem ‘Of Elsewhere’:
It’s true I like you better in the dark.
Deep dark. Where I can’t even see your face.
It’s not as if what’s done there isn’t work
that any man could do, so in the space
of my mind’s poisoned fields, you’re any man.
If it helps, I don’t want to be myself
either—to slip out of this body when
you enter, to exchange within the puff
of magic smoke my life for another.
Leave me other. You must give me over
for one who cries your name, for one who cries
because you give her pleasure, not because,
in calling hers, you’ve dragged her from the black
of Elsewhere, and then brought her body back.
Clearly a woman’s body and agency describes a beautiful internal lyric challenging in its intimacy. Allowing yourself to occupy the body of the other to whom this poem is being addressed or of whom this poem has been prompted ought to make one ill at ease. We are told to leave, but we do not (as readers or as character) and instead take pleasure from pleasure.
The whole of Deviants is compelling successfully checking every one of Abel’s requirements for quality poetry: “1. Attention to language 2. Attention to arrangement 3. A desire to communicate something to an audience.” This digital chapbook is a superb introduction to Abel’s work and one that is all too brief edging readers on to embrace more of her writing.
Colleen Abel is the winner of Unicorn Press’ 2015 Editors Prize for her collection Remake, which is forthcoming in fall 2016. She is also the author of a chapbook, Housewifery (dancing girl press, 2013) and a former fellow at University of Wisconsin’s Institute for Creative Writing. Her work has appeared in Colorado Review, Pleiades, The Southern Review, Phoebe, West Branch, and many other outlets. She was recently named a 2017-2018 Tulsa Artist Fellow.