Karyna McGlynn, Hothouse, Sarabande, 2017

Reviewed by Meg Wade

[Review Guidelines]


Fair warning: I have moved into Karyna McGlynn's Hothouse, and I am never moving out.



If she is a disappointment / 'as a girl' / it's because she doesn't know when to leave / the party.



There is something incredibly redeeming about this spicy collection of poems, McGlynn's second out from Sarabande Press. Though this glamorous, crooked mansion seems to constantly fall down around the speaker, there is a clear reclamation of power through the lyric; a speaker so brutally honest of the emotionally variegated terrain that we have no choice but to settle in. Here's my suitcase, you'll say. Here is my radio and favorite blue mug.



Though spooky, McGlynn's Hothouse is the kind of place a girl can get along in just fine in: here's the bathroom with a claw-foot tub, the parlor to dance around in, here's the purple vibrator in the back of the underwear drawer all for your goddamn self.

I am right at home here. I am right at home, but I am not comfortable, let me make that perfectly clear. Hothouse surrounds the reader with familiar imagery, but like the familiarity of the concrete world, some of the shit we see is so damn scary. I settle in because the speaker invites me to be, expects me be, asks me to sit down across the kitchen table with her and have a drink about it. Come on girl, she says, real talk.

So you want to see where I live?
Come here love. We'll circle the walls
with my big rococo key & look for a way in.
Say I unlocked the gate, what then?

Regardless of the room we're in, the speaker performs for us. There's a playfulness to it. She is herself, plus some. I aspire to be this extra. We are generously given a funny, spiritual guide, and I am ALL ABOUT IT,

Ethan says I'm working the hell-on-wheels librarian look today.
More specifically, he says, a New York City Public Library librarian
who's nursing a Vicodin/vodka hangover and has no time for anyone.
Immanuel Kant? Find it yourself bitch.



God bless the South and the fierce, funny women it produces. McGlyn's wit is quick, it sears. I read these burns and think to myself, welcome to the thunderdome of womanhood, motherfuckers.



Like any creepy, old house you get lost in, it's important to stay vigilant throughout this beauty of a Southern Gothic. You'll do business with the Devil in the basement, confront ghosts in the bedroom, you'll find all your best and least favorite colleagues snickering around the wet bar. Whatever room we're in, there's a violence that permeates McGlynn's diction. Once you see the flash in our speaker's eye, you can't un-see it; her lyric an apocalyptic cauldron of confession,

All my ammunition is gone, I finally get it
I take out my make-up mirror:
The eye of the storm, bloodshot,
Rimmed in blue and contraflow.
The forecast funnels in: I know, I know.

And Karyna doesn't flinch in the mirror. No fucking ma'am. Not today.

What I appreciate about this collection, above all else, is the speaker's self-awareness. Hothouse is built, to borrow a phrase from McGlyn, "ass-deep in the creek" of understanding. These poems reveal the stubborn beauty of feminine instinct: the complex and almost unattainable formula of independence + vulnerability, knowing too much + still believing anyway. They illustrate that even though understanding this formula is inherent, it sometimes still goes horribly, horribly wrong.

I wasn't really what he wanted
because I was always closed—
Even when I was sure I'd turned the sign on.
Even when I thought I was conducting business.

And later,

The last place we went
he tried to open the door for me.
I can do it myself, I said.
But I couldn't. The café was closed.
Turned away, something inside my
See-thru yes shook its little head.



Every woman collectively: It is hard to be a woman.

These poems: Fuck yeah it is.


Witch, you can only watch this bloodletting from above, can only amend the deed to your body: see it say it back, see it like a little rabbit with a twist on its neck and wish you could be that



Our father shows up in his bathrobe,
so we pass him the bottle. Look, he says:
If Love is the sicker of two sick,
Sick puppies, what choice do we have?
We must bring it home and fix it.


The rooms in this house know violence. They know an anger and fear and performance that so many of us can relate to.

One poem asks, "How many times can we fold the same bone?" Well, how many?

Hothouse is full of the contemporary (slutty Halloween costumes, C + C Music Factory, the Superbowl), but its foundation is the same ancient skeleton folded over and over again right outside this dilapidated mansion's flung open closet; the same old bone we know deep in our guts to be wholly and unflinchingly there—the invisible tug of rope between telling it like it is and silence. Between honesty and what so often goes left unsaid. These poems navigate the virtue and downfall of conflict and trace it back to the love and fear it stems from. Louise Glück once wrote, "I thought pain meant I was not loved. It meant I loved," and the rooms of Hothouse do so much loving, even when the corners are covered in cobwebs,

Back where my kitsch can't reach,
back in the back where my joy lies,
neither bared nor buried alive.