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Monster's Ink

The book reads like an extended metaphor for subconscious exploration

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In a post for the blog Luna Luna, Pittsburgh's Margaret Bashaar writes that her poetry was once compared to French horror films. She also describes creatively using the nightmares that once afflicted her as "appealing — cathartic — about confronting the darkest parts of myself through poetry." In her recent debut full-length collection, Stationed Near the Gateway (Sundress Publications), Bashaar uses 77 pages (and maybe a nod to French symbolist poetry) to do just that, as her spooky speakers interact with each other in interrelated poems that are, by turns, sexually charged, dark and disturbingly comical.

Bashaar, a Weave Magazine founder and editor of the feminist-centric Hyacinth Girl Press, sets Stationed Near the Gateway in a haunted hotel populated by characters like Claire, Monster, The Proprietor and others. The book reads like an extended metaphor for subconscious exploration, employing a dream-like tone and symbolic imagery. It's best when Bashaar uses honest moments to express her speaker dealing with fear and desire, sometimes-painful emotions not easily shared. However, the aesthetic doesn't reach for realism.

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In "Trichotillomania," a reader gains sketchy background on main character Claire, described as "the hyacinth and the egg / still unbroken in this town / that does not belong to her." It moves on to her relationship with the hotel's Proprietor, who "brought her here one hot summer afternoon, / tied up her fingers and carried her in his mouth. / She is not certain when he spit her out." The aftermath of this relationship seems borne out "when she plucks hairs from her head / one at a time and bites off the roots. / She swears it is like sinking her teeth into meat." It's an arresting image indicating Claire's obsessive-compulsive behavior as trauma-coping mechanism.

While the strange, varied cast seems stand-ins for various psychological facets of a single personality, some become more developed than others. Monster's id-like honesty is made interesting when Bashaar writes, in "The Monster Tells it to Claire Like it is": "When I met you thought I might / rip out your liver and it eat it some night ... I plan to murder you still — / draw and quarter you, / mount your head in a closet." The language of the Monster-focused poems relies on frankness veering toward the macabre.

Stationed Near the Gateway strives to make sense of what makes Bashaar's speakers tick, dispensing with confessionalism in favor of something both shadowy and playful.

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