Wisconsin Death Trap is vulgar, immersive with uncomfortable rural folklore, it’s punk rock, it’s gross. But in all of that, it is beautiful, pages and pages of honest and painful poems. I am reminded of Dorothy Allison and Nickole Brown, but instead of heat, humidity, and Southern iconography; it’s fog and snow, needles and beers, death and destruction in both fun and awful ways. Having experienced those awful northern Midwest winters, I am reminded of the days where I sat and stared for the sun to come out, pondering a past I’m not even sure was real but for damn sure felt real. Jessie Lynn McMains takes you to Wisconsin, takes you into the woods and homes of the people overlooked. They are unafraid to show the awfulness and bitterness, old beliefs and traditions, terrible acts inflicted by the people who inhabit the snowy state. There is grace and frostbite in this collection.
From “Highway 32”
look at me motherfucker I’m just
a ghost haunted by the girls I used
to be I’m just a deer in the fog
with two blue fireflies for eyes
how can you not believe in ghosts
when nothing dies (that’s a fact
Springsteen) on this highway but
it never goes away it just turns dust
& cat & lake wind
it just haunts
I believe to talk about one’s home, you have to dig up every coffin you’ve buried. You have to talk about the dead, the trees, the drugs, the murder, the legends. You have to talk about your grief and why it is so god damn important. While reading, I felt McMains’s love and desire about Wisconsin; a winding cacophony of homes and landmarks, tailored by the voices of those who once and still inhabit that world. There’s respect. McMains is able to talk about the poor, by talking about dirt and grime, snow and lake wind.
Their ability to traverse through dramatic and specific acts of death and loneliness, while maintaining a tone that feels almost like someone is yelling at the reader, is spectacular. It’s devastating.
From “Here in Black River Falls”
“arsenic and strychnine. Here in Black River Falls, the women purified
and punished themselves with kerosene and matches. Bury me in return
for being a woman and bearing children. Bury me, fatal epidemic
disease. Bury me grotesque and sudden. In a lily white gown with a florid
What’s most noticeable and striking about this collection is the length of the poems, both in terms of pages and line length. When I said this is fill with snow and fog, I mean that. I found myself lost in a world I was enthralled with, but desperate to find an escape. McMains pulling me across and down the page was a saving grace. In the best possible way, I was lost in theirstorytelling. I was unable to lift my eyes from the page because the brutal, brutal honesty they expressed constantly, through every single page, was enough to make me exhale in relief and satisfaction when I finished. This is one to be read aloud. One to be screamed. One to get lost in.