Reviews

Reviews of Liar

A papier mâché mask embossed with lines of poetry.
Mask and photo: Nancy White

“A highly original vision, voice, concept, style, language and image all working together to produce a world inside our world. Filled with fire and violence, mystery and magic, the loneliness of laundromats, rented houses, suicide, cornfields, hunger, and ultimately a naked raw survival, ‘charred walls pulled back from the frame.'” — Dorianne Laux

Liar sings the blues of the ignored, the unwanted, the untouched. And like song, the constraint of the voice, the pitch of individual witness, the tenderness for the world in spite of pain, comes through. These blues are a collection of what we fear and ignore in American society, the antithesis of the American Dream.” — Sunni Brown Wilkinson for Mom Egg Review

“Cuello writes compassionately about trials such as illiteracy, single motherhood, mental illness, death by suicide, and mourning. Often, the topic is not named, and this oblique approach combined with the lack of sensationalism feels like a sort of reverence. The moves the poet makes are quiet. Just as the circumstances are understated, the lyric moves are subtle.” — Linda Michel-Cassidy for Tupelo Quarterly

“Reading Jessica Cuello’s Liar is like being tossed into a dark well of memory, where salvation is a braided rope of words that burns as one’s grip tightens, and the receding circle of sky is an unwavering eye. In her stunning third book, Cuello invents/rediscovers a poetic language that comes as close as possible to the ways in which children and adolescents make stories of the worlds into which they have been forced as much as born—stories that serve both as testimony and as means of escape.” — Angele Ellis for Cultural Daily

Liar is a remarkable collection of poetry. The distinctive use of spelling and punctuation show the raw emotion of a child living in magical, and sometimes mystical and terrifying, worlds.” — Natalie Marino for River Mouth Review

Reviews of Cuello’s earlier work

… like a music box dropped in the woods …

— Jane Springer

“… the strange glow of Cuello’s poetry is the light of human living (an experience that never, somehow, feels ordinary) … Each of Cuello’s collections reads as a lyric catalog, gathering an abundance of wreck and loveliness that transgresses the nets of their lines and stanzas.” — Han VanderHart, author of Hands like Birds and What Pecan Light, for EcoTheo Review

“What if, dear Reader, pursuit’s fierce law—to hunt what flees, to kill what is killable, to silence forever what cannot exactly speak for itself—could cast its dark line around itself and halt the maddened chase…What peace would then arise? Who would speak then in the ocean’s haunted reciprocities? One voice might say: “What you’ve done / to me you’ve done to you.” So speaks a hunted whale in Jessica Cuello’s deep dive into Melville’s waters. And in those depths she continues Ishmael’s own dearest work, to give voice to all those otherwise denied one. But unlike the narrator in Moby-Dick, Cuello’s choral generosity reaches beneath the surface of the waves, reaches past the horizon’s boundary, letting the pursued whales speak themselves back into being, letting the women left home claim the lives that are their own. The ethic speaks so clearly it need not speak loud. It says, so simply, so justly, so necessarily: “I have lives // and they are numerous.”  — Dan Beachy-Quick, author of Circle’s Apprentice and A Whaler’s Dictionary

“What Jessica Cuello knows could save us from ourselves. Fear is instructive, yes, but we’ve learned poorly, devastatingly, from its churnings. It doesn’t have to lead to the destruction of that which we fear; instead, we must allow it to draw us to each other, we must feel its deep call and heed its warnings. We need each other, fear says. Cuello transcribes this fear into a lyric sweep of nimble power and stunning insight. Hunt is a lasting and crucial collection.” — Katie Ford, author of Blood Lyrics

“Jessica Cuello’s Hunt is a tragedy. But it isn’t the sort that ends with the death of a hero—instead, it is a tragedy that begins in the middle of the common death. It begins with, and emanates from, the recognition that it is impossible, in a world shaped by market forces, for humans to live with other beings in healthy and mutually beneficial ways—“What you’ve done / to me you’ve done to you,” Cuello writes. Hunt, then, isn’t only a tragedy—it is a warning, and it is a guide, and thereby it is redemptive.”  — Shane McCrae, author of MuleThe Animal Too Big To Kill, and IN THE LANGUAGE OF MY CAPTOR

“Cuello’s Hunt, which won the prestigious Washington Prize in 2016, emphatically deepens a reader’s understanding of Moby-Dick. In poems for fifty-three of the novel’s chapters, Cuello allows a diversity of characters who are deprived of voice in the novel an opportunity to speak powerfully and memorably. The effect is to expand Melville’s democratic sensibility, to underscore the novel’s profound concern with the impact living beings—men and whales—may have on one another.” — Elizabeth Schultz

“…in Cuello’s rendering [My Father’s Bargain], they seem to live, breathe, suffer and reach moments of self-understanding and, when possible, agency, a reminder of what flesh-and-blood human beings have always done….”(read more) — Janelle Elyse Kihlstrom

“It’s [My Father’s Bargain] like a music box dropped in the woods, wind it, and new archetypes emerge: you prefer a mattress-less wood bed to combs and lace or fall in love with a human dressed in donkeyskin. Accidentally, you burn. I wish I’d written this book, I can’t stop re-reading it.” — Jane Springer, author of Dear Blackbird and Murder Ballad

“The poems [in ‘by Fire’] have such force that it is surprising they can be profound in a contemporary space. These are not just poems of the past, or an experiment in voice…” (read more) — Lauren Gordon

“The poems in Curie often begin by holding their treasure at a distance from the unfocused eye, but as the reader is drawn closer, she catches first a glint and then a growing sense of an underlying radiance. I wish more poets wrote like Jessica Cuello does here.” (read more) — Janelle Elyse Kihlstrom

Further Reviews and Articles

Nancy Chen Long’s review of Pricking

Washington Review of Books reviews The Word Works publications for 2017

Article: “He thought the sea was his”: Gender and Ownership in Jessica Cuello’s second collection, Hunt

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