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by Shadow Angelina Starkey

SIZE: 60 Pages, 8" x 4.75"
PRICE: $20

I call Shadow Angelina "The Hammer" because her poetry drops with enough force to crack a skull or stop a heart. On stage, she's a breath-taker. On the page, her words stick with you like a poltergeist. "The Hammer" is head goddess and show closer at Esoterotica: Original Erotica from Local Writers, a unique reading series hosted at The AllWays Lounge on St. Claude Avenue in New Orleans. In a show known for its raw emotion and intimacy, the rawness and intimacy of Shadow Angelina's work demands she goes last.

Poetry like that isn't the easiest to read, never mind (for a moment) what toll comes from crafting it, which is exactly why BARBED CHOIR begins with a preface: "This work may break your heart. It may help you find the thread and needle in your evacuation kit to help piece it back together." I trust that Shadow Angelina isn't alone in the knowledge that some hurts heal and that the healing requires work. That work, BARBED CHOIR, is twenty-six poems that confront, mourn, call people on their shit, curse the sky with fouler language than a rained-on Lear, and apply fresh bandages to the wounds. One poem, "Every Cradle Has Been Made of Thorns" begins, "More people have committed suicide in my family than I had baby teeth. /That's a legacy /to nothing." The mere admission is a defiant statement of survival. The physical writing of the sentence declares its author's survival. Those among us grasping for such a defiance freeze in our tracks and take note. And these poems are no snake oil–with careful attention, each piece lets heartstrings slip loose like baby teeth. The bloodline baring its loss, the friends and lovers lost, are not fodder for the poems; no, the poems are fodder for the people–prized trinkets left at an altar of a life survived to honor the beloved dead. Even the shorter poems, like "Chance" expresses how expertly "The Hammer" falls:

In the dark next to you
is as sound as life has ever been.
What happens when an immovable object meets an unstoppable force?
When the unluckiest lucky woman
meets the man life charmed
who charmed life right back.
This love
doesn’t know half measures
doesn’t understand retreat
never did learn how to back up, slow down, speak when it was spoken to.
Doesn’t care about raising hands,
waiting to be noticed.
Never read Emily Post.
This love knows crush, kiss, reject, dive in.
Knows up all night talking,
making jokes at shit we can’t stand.
This love knows fear. And risk.
This love knows years of trying to figure it the fuck out.
Knows the frustration of distraction.
Of sharp words.
Of stilted apologies falling from wooden tongues.
Knows embrace.
Knows secrets safe.
This love knows.

The nourishment of BARBED CHOIR comes from its deft language, its pace that boils and spills over, and its knowing. Not knowing everything, not selling something; the poems are a personal map of one woman's chance.

Any poet worth their ink can tell you that poetry won't save your life, but if they're living they're at the very least bending the truth about that. Art is a salvation for so many, and Shadow Angelina lives and writes with an earned artistry that marvels. I'm glad to have known it and glad to share it with you.

Now that you're primed to read, I can tell you about the secret jewel of BARBED CHOIR: Shadow Angelina's lush & striking photography. Buried in the heart of BARBED CHOIR are twenty-one original images featuring the objects, locales, and sumptuous subjects caught by Shadow Angelina's masterful lens. Rendered in both black & white and in gorgeous full-color, the photographs perform the same kind of seductive blues as the poetry.

It's a unique book for a unique voice, three halves strung together by hand and lovingly intended for those that need it. We hope you find its intended nourishment.

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