Review of Jessie Janeshek’s Madcap

In this blog post, I review Jessie Janeshek‘s 2019 publication, Madcap, a book of poems published by Stalking Horse Press.

Madcap begins with a Buster Keaton quotation: “Tragedy is a close-up, comedy a long shot,” and the book divides itself evenly into these two vantage points. First up is the close-up, following that the long shot. Yet one could say that Janeshek’s writing dwells more so on the close-up, sometimes extreme close-ups, even when it provides its long shots. Madcap invites its readers into a shocking, sultry, sexy space that takes its inspiration from early Hollywood film, but definitely feels surprisingly relatable to a contemporary gothic landscape. Janeshek’s clever wordplay and cornucopia of images–some sublime, some subtle–drop readers into a twisted fantasy world that is both alluring and disturbing. This book of poetry unravels the lives of screwballs and bombshells, vampires and vixens who experience the world dramatically. Madcap makes you stop, play a scene in your head, and then read some more.

Janeshek’s poetry is dazzling in its phrases, clauses, and pauses; it is effective in its use of white space to create gaps that the reader has to fill in to make sense of the script. Madcap has a fascinating use of the / in titles and lines to build a relationship between images and force reflection, not exactly by providing a mirror, but perhaps a janus-faced coin that we must flip. When you read Janeshek’s work, you want to know more. She doesn’t give you all the answers, but she opens a door. 

Every line offers us an image that requires deliberation and reflection–not simply regarding the figures in the poems, but ourselves. Lines could be extracted and used in isolation to summarize a woman’s life a hundred years ago or today. While allusions to Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard, Marilyn Monroe, and other stars surely situate us in the past, their stories easily translate to the present. Readers cannot help but be struck by the figure of an independent woman dependent on an opportunistic industry, men, and the bad habits that support her success and bring her to the brink of her demise. How many readers can relate to that? A lot, probably. 

Jean-Harlow-1935.jpg

You can purchase Janeshek’s work directly from Stalking Horse Press, or you can preorder on Amazon (release date October 15).

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