Dancing Girl Press
By: Jill Mceldowney
Lindsey Novak’s debut chapbook is snakes and mirrors, “sexless angels,” blue skies, mothers and daughters, Edens and “cum on gold teeth.” The chapbook works to situate the reader in a world at odds with itself, a world where God competes with woman, a world where mother is pitted against daughter, and where woman battles herself as defined by these violences. This is a book about healing, about navigating the aftermath of the traumatic relationships that one has with religion, with family, and with the self. Much like the title of the chapbook insists, in the world Novak builds for her reader, healing can only be achieved through reliving the re-loop of trauma—like a child parroting back its first words to its mother, Novak’s echoes teach us how to speak.
Echolalia investigates the nonlinear, often disordered path toward healing after trauma. As a reader, as a human, I cherish honesty and this book, in its investigation of the nonlinear process of healing, is as honest as they come. The speaker in these poems is brash, rough, real, honest about their lived experience and though they often speak with an attitude of disconnection, an attitude that shows its teeth and says “so what?”—the urgency in the poems is such that the reader is pierced by the vulnerability of the speaker’s voice and the tendency for self annihilation:
“I’m doing drugs again
so that I will feel less betrayed
by my body, be less
inside this space.” (Gerburah)
Novak subverts religion and deconstructs the monotheistic ideology in order to investigate what it means to live beyond gender roles. The world Novak builds for us is godless and haunted by a semblance of a deity built by sin, generational shame. Novak makes it clear—this Baptist guilt is blood deep. Her speaker is one such who has been betrayed by religion, mother, their own body:
“My trigger lives deep inside me,
with Baptist guilt, shame.
I forgot the new moon yesterday
& then I forgot my own name.” (Iconography)
Guilt becomes so prolific that the speaker cannot even remember their own name. The language is simple but staggering, evidenced by such lines as “I collect mother figures” (Dead Names) “I’m tired of not being taken seriously” (What it Feels Like to Puncture a Vein). Through the voyage of text, the speaker learns to be both mother and God to themself.
By its end, the book sings notes of both hopefulness and apprehension. Who could blame this speaker after all? Who wouldn’t expect them to brace for the echo’s rebound? Novak recognizes the infallible process of healing, the way it fails and the way that, though one loop of trauma / grief may close, the wound remains open:
“I healed my own pneumonia.
reformed my broken bones,
& every time
I go home, I have to
cleanse the negativity
from my blood” (A Total Witch Hunt).
At the heart of Echolalia is a desire to understand conflict, cruelty, and the misunderstanding of humankind. Now, more than ever, we need a book like this in order to serve as mirror for the way we encounter and manage the complex dualities within our social order. Novak has gifted us with a splendid debut that is sensitive, thorny, defiant and disobedient. This book will stun you into returning to it again and again.
Lindsey Novak is a writer who followed the sun west from her native Missouri Ozarks to the dusty Arizona East Valley. She teaches composition for Arizona State University and her work appears in The Fourth River, The Rumpus, Atticus Review, Angel City Review, Puerto del Sol, and is forthcoming in Chattahoochee Review and Stonecoast Review. She is a 2019 Best of the Net nominee and her chapbook, Echolalia, is available from dancing girl press.
Jill Mceldowney is the author of the chapbook Airs Above Ground (Finishing Line Press). She is a founder and editor of Madhouse Press. Her previously published work can be found in journals such as Vinyl, Prairie Schooner, Muzzle, the Sonora Review, Whiskey Island and other notable publications.
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