Lisa Maria Basile, author of the chapbooks Triste (Dancing Girl Press) and Andalucia (The Poetry Society of New York), is one of the hardest working poets in New York. She is the Founding Editor and Publisher of Patasola Press, Assistant Editor of Fifth Wednesday Journal, and Editor-In-Chief of Luna Luna, my favorite online magazine.
On top of her editorial work, Basile works as a QA Assistant at MacMillan Publishers. She is a busy woman. Not too busy, it seems, to have written a third book, forthcoming this year on Hyacinth Girl Press.
I love war/lock, and believe it will be among the most important books of poetry released this year. Basile’s candid portrayal of abuse and survival is confessional in the best possible way, in that it is never self-indulgent and is, in fact, an act of generosity. Stories like these remind us that we, as trapped as we may feel in our respective subjectivities, are not alone.
The sixteenth poem in war/lock, which serves as a sort of title track, has the powerful effect of making me feel as though my most ineffable thoughts have been somehow extracted from my head.
to bind a woman
is to release her
to her dreams,
warlocked & bloodshot.
in blindness, i destroyed seven little dolls
sewn to the inside of my sheets
by my keeper.
i am a pulsing, perched crow,
my new night vision lit up,
in love with apricot-colored boys,
I am getting stronger.
I will your fears to destroy you.
cast a spell,
a holy fuck,
Articulating the emotional tone and weight of subjective experience, especially the type of experience that can be punishing to attempt to voice, is an essential function of poetry. Reading poems that succeed in this way remind me why poetry matters.
The poems in war/lock are deeply personal. Thus, it seemed fitting to ask Basile to describe the book in her own words. She kindly obliged.
war/lock is not a tome, as I thought it might be, but an unfettered utterance. When I wrote it I was afraid but I had nothing to lose. It was the winter of 2012; the thing was made in the drizzle of grey and rain, in a tiny bedroom I had rented from two girls who didn’t speak my language-in a new house, in a new neighborhood, inside of a new life. I say the book was “made” because I hadn’t taken time to really think it through. It came out in one night, like a labor, and ended as a sort of fetus–dead or alive, I can’t tell. Did I go on living? Or did a part of me die?I had just gotten out of a series of abusive relationships with others (I won’t expand upon which kind of relationships these were–only that my relationship with myself had permeated into some wild cancer and like a spell that has stopped working, the negative energies were coming in) that had, for all intents and purposes, wrecked every vessel in me; I don’t mean my heart was broken. I don’t mean I was hurt, or even sad. I mean I was left as a baby, naked and diapered, without modesty, begging for love or for a breast.I mean I was codependent and fearful and incomprehensibly black inside. I mean I had learned the call-and-response of a bad child whose only discipline understood was that of being ignored or shamed. These relationships wanted to see me weak so that they could be strong. I was younger then, so I learned easily to respond to or deconstruct because of two things: silence or shame. I was weak like no weakness I had seen in others before; but it was a calculated weakness. I made decisions each and every day to feed the beast; Stockholm Syndromed, even on trips to the sea in Spain, I could pick up a seashell and here my Owners call me to say, “Don’t be beautiful. Be broken. Be shameful. Be empty.”I became a monster–both host-to someone else’s evil thing and the thing itself. It is as though I walked two-headed. Eventually I just had PTSD. I would see my own failures as Defining, see my reflection as an awkward whore. I had let certain people walk all over me and trample the thing that had made my very being. At times I was afraid–no, positive–that I would never (nor ought to) be loved.war/lock is a depreciation and killing of the entities that possessed me. Really, I was possessed by my own darkness and victimized by the darkness of others; I will not claim innocence, but I will say that I wrote war/lock as a way to say No. One must acknowledge their victim-hood or their own weaknesses or their sorrows at some point and say No.war/lock is a breaking of the cage, a sort of ethereal world where an apothecary might provide an elixir which would eradicate the pain of others or The Self, or where a garden might flourish overnight, where a tiny pin-pricked doll might manifest revenge. But I do not see war/lock as a book of revenge magic. war/lock is simply a book of spells, secular (though not in language) imagined and with intention. The intent is to fill the white-space with freedom and to use the poetry as a way to curse and memorialize the pain.I’m happy that Margaret Bashaar of Hyacinth Girl Press is publishing this. She understands me intent and my melodrama and the ritual of letting go.