CUTBANK REVIEWS: {Skinny} by Carolyn Hembree

{Skinny}by Carolyn Hembree Kore Press, 2012

A Prose Poem Review By Lisa Levine

Book Review voice, 2012: This is how Carolyn Hembree’s poems make me feel: scared, like a stranger has slit open my dreams without even a kiss goodnight. A killer in flat olive skins tonight inside this far-off island/dream would lean fast under a low ceiling now against the blank, the collection’s first lines read. handstand then against the long wall of a basement of a long dance/hall and out his dual knifeneedle take.

Prose Poem voice, 1995/2005: Shampoo that flecks your hair with glitter, velvet jazz pants, lacquer for fingertips and toes Toes. You know when you suck on a girl’s toes it’s called a shrimp job? Cause they look like little shrimp? - an array of tantalizing colors – mauve, seashell pink, chocolate brown – drops of opium Opium, when did I smoke opium? The night we gave the midget a black eye?

Book Review voice, 2012: Voice? Fuck voice, this book has voices. Bird, Skinny, Old Sweetheart, Mamie, Him, Her. The dialogue poems, layers upon layers, amplify interspersed single-narrator pieces: The Goner, with its opening line They’ll read something like it somewhere – draws my attention with quiet clarity.

Prose Poem voice, 1995/2005: brushed along the nape of an un-tanned neck, under folds of hair, on either side of the narrow bone running between the heel and the low curve of the calf, into the hollow between two trussed and lifted breasts. Clunky metallic earrings slid through the gun-punched penetration penetration. did she say penetration? you bought at the mall at twelve if your parents weren’t kind enough to carry you to the doctor’s, pink, powdered, unaware, to have your ears pierced soon after birth birth? you a mother? that’s funny hell, how would you know?

Book Review voice, 2012: This is how Carolyn Hembree makes me feel: ecstatic. In email conversations, she is ebullient and encouraging. She does not judge. Perhaps she should, but her open mind places her work in an intellectual lineage of her own. Reading {Skinny}in bits and pieces leaves me feeling nascent, myself, as a writer, cut back to my bones. This is good, because bones both catch and refract light.

Prose Poem voice, 1995/2005: anyway –white heels in patent leather, Bikrins and Kellys and totes and clutches with socially did you know cannibalism was accepted in some societies? socially significant hieroglyphs, the whiff of talc in plastic ovals, sky blue and midnight blue and tan and khaki and burnt umber, rose, violet – all the violent, beautiful colors of a recent bruise i’ll fix your belt if you let me whack your bottom with it! breathless pause. turn away from the mirror to face demanding eyes no, i never want to hear you talk about sex

Book Review voice, 2012: Read {Skinny}. {Skinny} is reading you in voices past.

Prose Poem voice, 1995/2005: then, out of slivers and scent and shade and subtle gradations in tone this universe emerges fully formed, constructed piece by piece with a hem here and a loosened curl there, a beautiful island of artifice that floats around this network of veins and banded muscle and soft subcutaneous fat that we call a body, no, call it home.


Carolyn Hembree’s poems have appeared in Colorado Review, DIAGRAM, Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, jubilat, and Witness, among other journals and anthologies. Her poetry has received three Pushcart Prize nominations, a PEN Writers Grant, a Southern Arts Federation Grant, and a Louisiana Division of the Arts Fellowship Award in Literature. Before completing her MFA, she found employment as a cashier, house cleaner, cosmetics consultant, telecommunicator, actor, receptionist, paralegal, coder, and freelance writer. Carolyn grew up in Tennessee and Alabama. She teaches at the University of New Orleans. Her poetry collection, {Skinny}, is available from Kore Press.

Lisa Levine's fiction has been featured in the Edge Reading Series, Fray Day, and the Odyssey Reading Series. Her author interviews and reviews have appeared in Kore Press, Sonora Review, and Zocalo. She is working on a collection of hyperrealistic short stories titled And Yet I Can Love Each Equally.