The chapbook 309.81 by Rachel Mallino was published by dancing girl press, a small press that describes itself as an indie publisher with a goal “to publish and promote the work of women poets through chapbooks, journals, and anthologies” that “bridges the gaps between schools and poetic technique – work that’s fresh, innovative, and exciting.” The first thing I did when I received the chapbook in the mail was look for Mallino’s bio. I love author bios and author pics because they tend to show you something more about the author: how they view themselves and how they wanted you to see them. There wasn’t one. I wanted to know more about Mallino so I googled her. She popped up on a blog about tattooed poets where she shared the vine tattoo that wraps around her foot. She claims it represents the unhealthy relationship she has with her mother. This relationship is fodder for the first two sections of 309.81.
309.81 is broken into four sections. The first section titled ‘In This House’ opens with this quote from Thoreau: “Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed by them.” Each of the nine poems in this section addresses the odds and ends of our houses, like berber carpet, nail-polish & notebooks, and strands of hair, but their ordinariness is tortured by the harsh realities of this mother and this daughter. The second section is titled ‘To Be Fifteen Again’ and contains a series of poems that a numbered and series that, if you put all the titles together, you get the phrase ‘Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.’ This black humor surfaces throughout Mallino’s work, adding even more depth to the pieces.
Throughout all the poems, Mallino’s word choice is pure perfection. One of my favorite things about reading poetry is feeling the way the words writers choose roll around in my mouth. Mallino is sensory delight with lines like “I sniffed out the screwdriver / and ruptured that lock like any good scab” and “to have linoleum thin hair – a finger’s runway.” I found myself reading lines over and over again just to feel how they sounded, ones like “how z in Elizabeth / cuts right through the name’s soft tissue” and “this house is a comfortable chemical” and “maybe the bile / is my good Easter dress.” Simply fantastic.
These poems may center on the affects of a teenaged relationship between a mother and a daughter, but no teen angst will be found within these pages. Mallino’s words are visceral, and my ears were heavy with the weight to the all-too-real relationship that readers are forced into, the relationship between this mother and this daughter and medication and the frenzy of new life.
With this publication, dancing girl press has succeeded. 309.81 is like raw concrete you’ve fallen and scrapped your knee on. It opens you up so you feel the blood pumping inside. And later, you’ll realize you’re still tugging on the scar it left long after it’s healed.