Table of Contents



Jennifer Soong, Suede Mantis / Soft Rage, Black Sun Lit, 2022

Reviewed by Lindsey Pannor

[Review Guidelines]



Despite the world, always, I am / Because of it.

Never allowing grasp for more than a brief moment, Jennifer Soong's second full-length collection, Suede Mantis / Soft Rage engages a continual feeling of slippage in dailiness. This three-part, titleless, hundred-page experience of varied temporalities is sparsely anchored by brief touches of salvation in love, and in beauty. These, however, emerge in sharp contrast to the speaker's subsequent inability to hold onto them for long without inevitable fury at their surrounding material circumstance. As such, these life-affirming affective states are taken and returned and taken again by the world at speed. There is immense grief in this. Soong's poems engender their lyricism with what the form is capable of at its best, as intensely transformed and imbued with a language tradition far beyond its origins. Her speaker's internal life—ever glitched, sparse, guided by the body and unbound by reason—is still forced to reckon with the insatiability of an endless desire for "a plainness / in which to eat / shit and sleep." 
     Encapsulated in the book's title is its accomplishment: realizing the speaker's daily experience of the extreme and yet elusive proximity of beauty to rage, and of rage to beauty. In reading "I see the bouquets of trees fall apart / I blank and am gravely joyous," I sense just how soft that friction is, of the grave and the joyous touching. As readers, we feel the air of the poem, dually "warm and hostile." We are led to envision the nature of the white mantis alluded to in the title before we see her herself. The collection thinks with the simultaneity of a mantis more beautiful than the orchid it imitates, and the vicious and blinding speed of its hunt that allowed such an evolution. The conditions of this multiplicity are where:

In open light
            the world chaoses forth
           the obstacle being
love as a feeling, not
a way of life 

Motifs of various shades of light feature prominently, the speaker often being depicted in "shadow," "a layer of gray," where "it's soft / it's ash-like." In a sense, this soft gray is a direct and painterly likening of Soong's syntheses. The "open light" of legibility distinguishes itself as an obstacle chaosing forth, towards naming love discretely as something too bright, as something it is not. The opposite end of reason, then, is the dark, where one feels and pads around for unknowable edges. The night is often summoned throughout. It is goaded into existence by the speaker, so that they might practice this melding and carrying of love as a way of life instead of as a feeling, "still leading the others, / after dark, to water."
      These "abstractions are new / and stunning" and are woven through a "rewetting and adhering with dust" in the center of the Suede Mantis. This dust adhering to these abstractions is kicked up from the ground of the site of labor: for the speaker, this often seems to be the university. The laboring, then, is of the mind and the hands. "Scribbling intensely" becomes:

a focus group for
        disappearing things
nondescript earth
        peripheral hand neuropathy

The book object itself, then, wraps the poems all the way around their meaning. Their abstractions of thought and language are harrowingly inextricable from the dust from which they were built. Not only do they concern themselves ideologically with this inextricability, they remind that even the language illuminating that fact was born of the "nondescript earth" and adjoining "peripheral hand neuropathy" of all of the material conditions required to create. To read this book feels like a relief in tandem with the vexation which we feel no choice but to harbor. It gives way to the exhaustion of this constant need and admits to fatigue where grit has always been required. This landing, ultimately, is one of reverence for the mutated thing of life, where the five percent we "can still fill / ... with feeling" is gorgeous enough to nullify the "95% / sunk cost." In light of Soong's unrelenting acknowledgement of current pessimisms, I am struck by just how truly I believe her.