Friday, October 10, 2008

Exorcism by Larissa Shmailo

Poetry CD Review by Zinta Aistars

Audio CD (June 24, 2008)

Price: $18.99

"Skin is just sausage we call home."

It is lines such as this that make me a brand new Larissa Shmailo fan. And I am not usually a listen-to-poetry rather than read-poetry fan. Recordings of readings seem to be "the poetic thing" these days, and that is a trend that makes sense to me. People have less time and impetus to read a book in their busy lives, but popping a CD into your car stereo during a commute, well, that's another thing. (I still prefer a book in hand, but my daily commute is long ...)

So pop in this. Shmailo's voice immediately fills your space. Not every poet or writer can read their work to others. In fact, I think I am safe in saying ... most cannot. I have been frequenting readings all my life, and I can't say how often I have been disappointed to find that what I love on the written page bores me to tears spoken aloud. Not so with Shmailo. After listening to Exorcism several times, I can still say I am wishing for the written page, but unwilling to give up the sound. Shmailo reads with so much intensity, intonation, energy, in velvety and sensual voice, that to not hear this would be a missed experience.

Another point in Exorcism's favor: this is the first such spoken poetry CD in which I can say that music, where it is present, is seamlessly joined to spoken word. It does not distract. It does not overwhelm. It does not jar. It blends, accompanies, enriches. The mood is like that of entering a dark, smoky room, falling into pillows, and riding the silky, heady wave. Shmailo is intense. She can shock, she can tickle, she can entrance.

My favorite is "Dancing with the Devil." Because it is. A mini poem leading into "How to Meet and Dance with Your Death." You can only do it once, the poet warns you. Any more than once, and you become a cheap woman sleeping with common men. The recipe is bizarre and wonderful. You very nearly want to write it down and give it a blend. Die if you must.

Shmailo poetizes devils with the same skill as she weaves words around God and Magdalene. Her poetry is as lushly sensual as it is cutting to the bone. This is about love and pain, birth and rebirth, fields of magnolias, and surviving the Warsaw ghetto. She uses words I save for special occasion without wincing, and I forgive it, because it works. The slap of shock is appropriate. This is not merely strong performance, it is also strong in substance ... which is why I long to see the written word as well. I would suggest a written copy inserted into the CD cover as a booklet to complete the treasure.

If I list a favorite, then I will also list my least favorite: the title poem, "Exorcism." Found poem, apparently, although I don't think that is what holds this one back for me. It is a rather droning, chanting monotone (about the lie and crime of war) that can't be listened to for long without grating on a nerve or two, edging on annoying. But this is not reason enough, this one, for me not to recommend Exorcism in its totality to anyone who enjoys poetry, or just an enthralling listening experience.

~Zinta Aistars for The Smoking Poet

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