What’s Hanging on the Hush
By Lauren Russell
Ahsahta Press (2017)
88 pages, trade paper
Reviewed by Maya Marshall
In this debut full-length collection—a follow up to her chapbooks Dream Clung Gone (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2012) and The Empty-Handed Messenger (Goodbye Better, 2009)—Lauren Russell repurposes writings from found materials (including flyers, ads, a lesbian sex guide, and philosophical treatises) into free verse, formal, and prose poems. Russell’s What’s Hanging on the Hush is a deft, surprising collection in which we follow a particular “I” as she traverses the world.
This book sticks with me. Upon reading it, I feel like I’ve just had an individual tour of a solitary life, like I’ve been invited into the secret chambers of an intriguing woman in red, the kind of home in which one might find instruments from all over the globe. I want to read it again and again to find what other details and subtle musics are built into it.
At its core, the collection is a character study. It is a voice- and object-driven panorama that enlivens the settings the speaker inhabits: a psych ward, an old Victorian home, and cars characterized as weapons and as windows into alternate lives. Via repurposed surveys, the poet contends with institutional voices that lurk in schools, hospitals, and other spaces designed for mental interrogation.
With her syntax and use of metaphor, Russell is playful, craft wise, and a sculptor of found objects. If you’re interested in queering, wandering, mulling over how all the texts we encounter have come to converse, then this book is for you. Its multiple perspectives observe other people and quietly explore interior spaces from a safe emotional distance. In her own words:
“My mask’s on crooked like the eye
patch I had to wear as a child, lest
things before me multiply.
I am always revising the story of my life. I have never
been cured of my wandering I−”
This is a collection about a woman who belongs to a bubble world outside of which she cannot easily, or commonly, engage. The woman we follow in this collection desires to inhabit all the space in her body, and its place in the rooms, cities, and intellectual spaces into which she enters; she craves completion, integration.
To explore these ideas, Russell has collaged a woman to life. In the end she knows herself and her boundaries. She declares: “I am always the lady in red.”
Maya Marshall, a writer, editor, and poet, holds fellowships from Cave Canem and Callaloo. Currently, she serves as a senior editor for PANK.