A Cure for Suicide by Larissa Shmailo
Book Review by Jeanette Lee
(chapbook): 52 pages
Červená Barva Press, 2008
Shmailo’s chapbook A Cure for Suicide is linguistically engaging, visually
diverse, and an unabashed look at the power of mortality in our own hands. A compilation of Shmailo’s poems published
in various literary magazines, A Cure for Suicide opens with “Vow,”
We will love like dogwood.
Kiss like cranes.
Die like moths.
sets down an irrefutable truth: we live, we die. Her portentous tenor, both in theme and in anticipation for the poems that
follow, command the reader’s faith and attention. This command never abates, driving the reader between personifications
of death, as in “Dancing with the Devil,” and images of ethical suicide, as in “Exorcism (found poem).”
Shmailo’s voice unapologetically lays out the bones of death and steps
in them, around them, on them.
An interesting theme of A Cure for Suicide
is the push and pulls between individual and societal deaths and their inextricable connection. In several poems Shmailo specifies
names: Ramon Fernandez, Jo, Molly Bloom and Louie. We meet Anya Logvinova in “For Anya Logvinova,” a wonderfully
frenetic poem that captures the necessary madness of being an individual in society. These names are juxtaposed with testing
subjects like abortion, illegal warfare, unequal resource distribution, and prostitution. With problematical subjects it is
easy to disengage and say, not I! But names are humanizing and names help the reader acknowledge the individual’s role
in society, for better or worse.
mode in which Shmailo communicates the universality of the human experience of death is her multilingual language choices.
Spanish, Russian and French, used sparsely, remind the reader that no language is big enough to encapsulate the human experience;
words are tools to hone in on broad subjects like death, and even unintelligible words and phrases like, “Bearbarkingmongoosesad” in “For Anya Loginova” set a pace, generate a mood, and dig for truth.
A Cure for Suicide confronts the reader with interrelated individual and social
suicide in a torrent of language and imagery that leaves the reader bravely looking for hope. This call is captured well in
the last lines of Shmailo’s poem “Mapping,”
Come, reluctantly spend
The day: Look at the unconnected stars, the uncollected lights
Without name or home or constellation of their own,
And imagine a use with me for all that doesn’t fit.
Larissa Shmailo has been published in Fulcrum, Rattapallax, Big Bridge, Drunken Boat, Naropa’s
We, and numerous other publications. She is currently the director of TWiN Poetry, an informal collective of over 10,000
audio poets and listeners.