Frances Justine Post
Augury Books, $15 (paper)
“I put on my face,” begins “Self-Portrait as Beast,” the opening poem of Frances Justine Post’s bold debut collection. “This one is wolfish, / covered in whorls of black and gray fur,” it continues, “What did I wear / when we were new?” Divided into five sections, Beast features thirteen of these self-portraits, each haunting and distinct as the first. Though the collection’s narrative arc is familiar (that old story of a failed relationship), the phrasing Post uses to convey it is dazzling, dangerous, visceral, and new. Beast is bravely “outing a rudimentary / language” that is practically transpersonal. The poems dismantle the binaries of you and me, then and now, self and other, and singular and plural as they investigate, almost obsessively, how experience uproots and shapes us, asking, “what will become of us” in the whirlwind, and how will we know ourselves in the wake of abandonment? The results of this investigation become creepier as the collection draws to an end. In the final poem, “Self-Portrait as Cannibal,” the speaker has transformed from victim into victor, having torn the beloved’s heart out and “placed it in the freezer, cubed.” The speaker’s questions, likewise, transition from uncertainty to cold irony: “How does it feel to be an object, a collection really? // I don’t need anyone else, now that you are here to stay.” This is a virtuoso ending to a collection that demands nothing less; shifting the power balance to the speaker, the poem allows her to exit the collection with grace, albeit grotesquely—she is refreshed, in charge, and alive.