F2O LitStyle A Shaky Read of Jessie Janeshek’s The Shaky Phase by Alex Simand | Book Review

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A Shaky Read of Jessie Janeshek’s The Shaky Phase

Love poems if love was spoken in unapologetic noire, vodka, Pine sol, and leopard print. If I were to choose an accompanying theme song for this beautifully uncomfortable collection of poetry, it would be Kittie’s Brackish. Melodic and loud and demanding. Work that demands your attention. Biblical. Somber. Silly. Awash in gesture.

You know that feeling when you’re sitting on a sand dune smoking a cigarette or enjoying some other vice and watching a river rush by and you’re slightly hungover and your mind won’t stop forcing images into your head—sometimes confusing, painful, nonsensical images—and you’re a little horny and not entirely sure why but then you turn into a poem and it’s all okay? This is what The Shaky Phase is like. It’s that part of your conscious that’s insuppressible even though you’ve tried for years to suppress it; it’s that part of your self that knows the truth of things without knowing it knows the truth of things.

On a craft level, there is a lot to admire in Jessie Janeshek’s work. The Shaky Phase is tense with the type of imagery that leaves one reeling and hungry for more words—verbs that jump and nouns that gut-punch the way good poetry does. Her work mines memory: schismatic, jolting, lurching memory that embodies all it means to be a woman, a human, imperfect and vulnerable and fierce. “Our trauma stretches / across every ghost,” she writes. Indeed, The Shaky Phase traverses the bodies of ghosts, of men, of gothic landscapes, littering her work like landmines she compels you to step on over and over.

At times Jessie’s words yearn towards terroir, binding themselves to land and foxes and wolves. Dark forests and Other times they swim in the muck—hard drinking Western gun cocking duel drug-addled drifting. “as I lay on the chifferobe/ waiting for vodka, three ambien/ and you sawed the lawn yellow/ goosebumped and high” she writes in All I Felt Was the Dark Boy Manning the Swanboats. It’s precisely this back and forth that leaves the reader disconcerted, in concert with a narrator who thrashes wildly against the world and her own mind.

Jessie espouses a kind of feminism in The Shaky Phase that embraces the determined self, woman as her own, untethered from the expectations of man or society or church; certainly the narrator embodies these qualities. As a man (a white man, no less) reading her work, I feel confronted with my own societally-induced expectations of women, which is precisely the kind of discomfort socially conscious poetry should induce. “I’m declining your blindfold”, she writes in This Church is Celebrity: delightful sacrilege made with unwavering eye contact, as if daring the reader to look away. Fuck the patriarchy with drugs and hymns. “I’m obsessed with dead dads/ I hang them like prayer flags/ to ward off red babies/ who howl through my earth,” goes the refrain in Holy Ghost Hook-ups Sacred, Unafraid.

This isn’t to say that The Shaky Phase is always sure-footed. Instead, we are given a glimpse into the mind of a defiant yet vulnerable narrator who expresses love and sex and pornography bereft of ideation. There is resilience but also doubt in her voice. Doubt as the engine driving us along dark winding roads. Doubt as an admission of humanity. Jessie confronts, in her poems, ideas of grief and shame with an incredible self-awareness that comes from careful musing before the blank page or many hours with a paid professional. “But I know my vitals/ my shame, shame, shame/ keep away from black apples”. Sketching the edges existence.

I guess what I’m saying is this: read The Shaky Phase. You’ll like it. Or you’ll dislike it. But you’ll find yourself changed regardless. The taste of grapefruit and open bottles of vodka in your mouth. Blood and pistols laid on bedside tables. Pregnancy and cold wars and hunters. Circumstance and circumspection. Bodybags you zip up upon yourself. It’s not an easy read by any means, but worthwhile poetry is never easy, so make the trek—let Jessie Janeshek be your guide to The Shaky Phase.

You can get your copy of The Shaky Phase on the Stalking Horse website here 


About the Reviewer:

Alex Simand lives and works in San Francisco. He holds an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles. Alex writes fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in North American Review, Hippocampus Magazine, Mudseason Review, Five2One Magazine, Angel City Review, Drunk Monkeys, and other publications. His short story, Election Cycle, was a winner of the 2017 Best Small Fictions Prize. Alex is the former Blog Editor and Nonfiction Editor for Lunch Ticket and past Editor of Creative Nonfiction and Diana Woods Memorial Prize. Find him online at www.alexsimand.com or on Twitter at @AlexSimand.