Publishers Weekly Review for Hell Figures by E. Tracy Grinnell

e. tracy grinnell hell figures publishers weekly

Joined by the specters of Helen of Troy, Sappho, and Cassandra, Grinnell (Portrait of a Lesser Subject) roams "the terroir, of amnesia," in her accomplished collection. In one sense, these prominent women of classical literature are the eponymous "figures," but they have been ventriloquized through patriarchal narratives, authors, scholars, and millennia of literary transmission, so figuration constitutes these characters while also stripping them of subjecthood. It is from this critical tension between representation and effacement that Grinnell's sparse yet richly nuanced poems emerge. Grinnell does not recuperate or reconstitute these characters, but instead asks "What can I do?// in the narrow mirror/ showing the part for all?"—a question that is about both agency and the possibilities and limits of composition. Fugues, palindromes, translations, and quotations highlight iteration and repetition where "no body// letters alone/ proliferate." Figure, author, text, and reader become scrambled in a feedback loop wherein "the effigy imagines us/ panoptic glass eye." In four distinct, symphonic movements, Grinnell questions whether there is a way out of a violent echo chamber of literary representation—"how else traverse/ , in loudening// howls the rendered/ animal,// darkest, darkening/ refraction, our// how else/ stand, walk, murmur, think/ , grieve?"—while nonetheless forging a new way forward. (May.) - Publishers Weekly