Hough & Helix & Where & Here & You, You, You
by Lea Graham
Publication Date: August 2011
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What People are Saying about Hough & Helix & Where & Here & You, You, You:
Hough & Helix & Where & Here & You, You, You, creates energy by relentlessly kneading its central questions. It mixes sophisticated word choice with images gleaned from mythology and popular culture, but these blur past the reader, like images seen through the window of a train.
—Sean Singer discusses why he selected Hough & Helix & Where & Here & You, You, You for the Rumpus Poetry Book Club
With a wonderful lyric intensity, Hough & Helix & Where & Here & You, You, You reveals our luscious world. Graham has a voice, and it sings.
—Claudia McQuistion reviews Hough & Helix at storySouth
. . . a steady thematic thumping of sex and want, a rhythmic book of push and drive.
—J.A. Tyler reviews Hough & Helix at PANK Magazine
Do we slight desire when we say crush? No, Lea Graham seems to answer, we praise it. Less like a reservoir of recollection than a synaptic centrifuge, Hough & Helix spins and strains the blood rush of our days and words until all that remains is their compacted essential elemental charge—the poems flash and flirt on the page, surging like the “million tiny lightening storms” within us. In playfully fresh language and crisp images, this speaker collapses time and space, elegy and ode, as Latinate diction beds down with slang. A raw sexuality and emotion—think Brando and Elvis and The Venus of Willendorf—haunt the collection the way Wayne C. Booth haunts The Craft of Research.
In moments palpably electric and wild with desire from cover to cover, Lea Graham's collection of "crushes" radiates enormous heat and wisdom. When she writes, "I used to hide wings & eggs/damaged things. . . beneath the house," and describes a month as being, "of wool & wolves & wolf whistles," I want nothing more than to go where she goes, to dig up these treasures, savoring each line—I'm simply in awe of the delicious music here.
The voices, the presences, convened here are astonishing. Sappho, Neruda, the Venus of Willendorf, Diane Arbus, Marlon Brando, Mrs. Robinson, Marian Anderson, the Everley Brothers, Aphrodite and a recurrent, benevolent Velvet Elvis, all drawn into the swirl of these wonderfully rich, energetic poems. In this poetic sequence, each poem is called a Crush, and Graham means each to have at least the double sense of the word—of uncontrollable infatuation and desire and of destructiveness, to have a crush on and to be crushed, to crumple or grind down, to subdue or be subdued. These double and redoubling forces are, for Graham, essential to perception and affection, grace and need, voiced at times by the poetry of the past but as often by the passing tatters of popular music and the movies.
Many of these poems have the word “crush” in their texts or titles, and from this book onward “crush” is a word that Lea Graham has a kind of patent on. Graham, in fact, has a passionate crush on life, and we all know that even the most adolescent of crushes can suddenly turn to real love. Because of that, we as readers have a crush on Graham and her work, which is vivid and lively and smart. Beneath all the fun in this writing, there’s insight and depth and even sadness.
Hough & Helix is a book of attraction, of valentines, of love spells and rumination, of desire, anger and abandon. Bright and witty, it’s also vatic and magisterial at turns—okay, maybe it’s a little like Mina Loy’s Songs for Johannes, the world of “Pig Cupid.” Lea Graham has opened a loveland in which female pleasure resides in a coruscated syntax of particular nouns, verbs, adjectives and commands.
Reader, consider Lea Graham’s astonishing poems: language fresh from the apocalypse. But also fresh from the oven. Crusty and crunchy. Compelling our senses into thought. Filling our terror with appetite. Daring the body to desire.
It was one of those years: fallow, dry, insipid, an exsiccative
fall breeding winter, torrefying, glistening, sluggish. Afternoons
withered talk-less, nothing to story. Words crackled off stalks,
blown to corners; phrases like dust motes, ephemeral,
a feverish child. Parched, exhausted without tale or romance,
idyll, pastoral. Even the song drained, the chant emptied.
A message appeared in my inbox: armpit & luminescent
& hoary. That was all it took. I woke greening like Stanley Park.
Words kept coming: pudenda, tuber, torus, cavetto, arcing Mombasa’s
rooftops; rocking & rolling, a dhow on the Indian Ocean; bursting
the cracks of Ashland Ave., taken for a Near West-Side hooker
disguised as a school girl: gob smacked, corm, hough & helix
& where & here & you, you, you. Then oh god & desperately
& make a clean breast of, wilting righteous, sprawling before me.
I slouched in internet cafes talking to rain, my inbox empty.
Alone, waterfalls read Prohibir Actividades Amorosas & college kids
from Poughkeepsie bought the beer: Pollution is a dirty means
to a radiant sunset like your smile & You must be tired—you’ve been
running through my mind all night & Wanna fuck? Crossed legs
on a bus back to the city through cloud forests; rivering, their stories
germinated, coalesced—what grows shared—bromeliads, bougainvillea,
bleeding hearts: bract & spine, caudex & corolla, stamen,
calyx, carpel. Sitting at a bar next to a man with hair
the color of speech & honey & semen, his appetite
straight-up Dionysian. He said: You’re hot.