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The Lifting Dress

Overview

Selected for the National Poetry Series by Terrance Hayes.

Lauren Berry's bracing and emotionally charged first collection of poetry delivers visions of a gothic South that Flannery O'Connor would recognize. Set in a feverish swamp town in Florida, The Lifting Dress enters the life of a teenage girl the day after she has been raped. She refuses to tell anyone what has happened, and moves silently toward adulthood in a community that offers beauty but denies apology. Through ...

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The Lifting Dress

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Overview

Selected for the National Poetry Series by Terrance Hayes.

Lauren Berry's bracing and emotionally charged first collection of poetry delivers visions of a gothic South that Flannery O'Connor would recognize. Set in a feverish swamp town in Florida, The Lifting Dress enters the life of a teenage girl the day after she has been raped. She refuses to tell anyone what has happened, and moves silently toward adulthood in a community that offers beauty but denies apology. Through lyric narratives, readers watch her shift between mirroring and rejecting the anxious swelter of her world, until she ultimately embraces it with the same violent affection once tendered to her.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Berry's sometimes gripping debut, almost every page explores the danger, the allure, the violation, and the omnipresence of sex, in a society—in this case, the coastal Deep South—and in the life of a teenager, "The Just-Bled Girl," who is stuck in an abusive relationship (rape seems to be a component) with an adult she calls "Big Man." These characters and others without names—the mother, the father, a party-girl big sister—recur through first-person poems that weave the girl's story into provocative declarations about desire in general, about the paradoxical, vulnerable, alluring, liminal figures of female adolescence, about its countless double binds: "I watched a girl/ wake inside me/ with a throat like a hallway// where rich folks are introduced." Entering putatively adult spaces, given over to sex, the girl is a victim but an explorer, too: "Leaning on the car's trunk, I push against/ the places I'm never allowed into// and the perfume burns off my dress." Meanwhile the older generation simmers, or festers, or sets traps for the young: "Though I believe everyone has a mother,/ I don't know where mine went," Berry's girl opines, in a poem with the remarkable title "The Year My Father Mistook the Ocean for a Mistress." Some readers will likely find this debut too narrow; others—especially those who admire Sharon Olds—will see in its stylized dramas not only passion and sorrow but an irreplaceable truth. (June)
Library Journal
Berry's first book, a National Poetry Series winner selected by Terrance Hayes, takes place in the mind of a girl from a lush Florida "swamp town" who has been raped. The victim refers to her rapist, who becomes her lover, as the "Big Man." Initially, she can't speak of what happened owing to the (symbolic) carnation stuck in her throat. Nevertheless, her story is gradually revealed until it finally erupts in blood. Confusion results from the use of at least two narrators and a tendency toward easy surrealism: "My mother and I mistook our pool/ for a clean-shaven man." But there are some terrific poems here, for example, "The Sawgrass Women Make Me Nervous," whose speaker seeks traces of her dead mother in the public library: "… her breath/ over the bloated-bottom pitcher, the ice cubes'/ lazy shapes melting into the cream. All I can do is find her/ in this dusty newspaper engine." This poem and others have the authority readers expect from a prize-winning collection. VERDICT Gothic lyricism from a promising new writer.—Ellen Kaufman, Baruch Coll., New York
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143119654
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/31/2011
  • Pages: 80
  • Sales rank: 1,445,821
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Lauren Berry received a BA in Creative Writing from Florida State University and an MFA from the University of Houston, where she won the Inprint Verlaine Prize and served as poetry editor for Gulf Coast. From 2009 to 2010 she held the Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellowship at the Wisconsin Institute. She lives in Houston, Texas.
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