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Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent

by Liz Howard

It seems absurd that Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent is Liz Howard’s full-length debut. There is a gravity, a certainty to the way Howard inhabits these words and phrases, that lends her writing a profound authority. The tone and timbre of the voice changes, speaking with shivering rawness and depth, and considering base abjection as well as subtle speculative philosophy. “Debarker” references “pubic hair the lumberjacks / have left long barbs curled / to ‘put me in my place’” and the necessity of using “the same / rag for the toilets as the / dishes.” The very next poem finds its speaker “inside my own head perpetually / not simply Wittgenstein’s girl / but an infinite citizen in a shaking tent.” Both approaches and subjects are invested with the same weight – the uncomfortably physical and abstrusely intellectual are allowed to coexist side by side.

Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent (Liz Howard) coverThere is no distance between the beautiful and the grotesque in this collection. It’s not that these values are conflated, but they are allowed to touch, to undulate against each other, slipping so close as to suggest elision. In “Look Book,” a bird’s blue-feathered body heaving with maggots is set next to an idealized image of female beauty, “a girl posed into / happiness.” The body and the natural world are often superimposed upon each other – like the “trees of silver tongue” and “puffed metastatic coal” in “Contact” – to lovely and repellant results.

More than anything else, these poems are defined by vulnerability. Which is not to say that they are fragile – quite the opposite. Infinite Citizen draws its power from revealing every wound, every ugliness, every potential site for eruption. The raw tenderness these pieces reveal is not that of a limping bird or weakened deer trailing behind the herd, but something backed into a corner, made more dangerous by virtue of its trauma. “I will be as loud / as I need to,” Howard asserts vigorously. For all its evident vulnerability, this collection is “a thing /­ with claws.”


Reviewer: Natalie Zina Walschots

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart


Price: $18.95

Page Count: 102 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 978-0-77103-837-2

Released: April

Issue Date: May 2015

Categories: Poetry