A review of


by Lynn Sukenick

Central question: What was Houdini really trying to escape?
Author on women and fiction: “Whether this comes as a result of social restriction, literary isolation, or critical attack, and whether it issues in anonymity, self-censorship, or a flawed artistry—or none of these—the fact is that awareness of gender is almost consistently present in female writers”; Author’s married name: Lynn Luria-Sukenick; Representative lines: “I am bitten with the black tooth of Houdini, / that subtle injection that tells you, / freedom’s at the bottom of the Hudson / so jump in. Some tell me not to / leap till I’ve loved enough. / But Houdini coos, you are / too tall, you are too / small, there is no / Captain of the Roses. / Hearts burst, they are so frail.”

Chapbooks are books in the way that zines are magazines: produced in small quantities, often lovingly, by hand, with attention to aesthetic concerns, and without any significant financial motive. They are not widely distributed and are often read only by a small circle of enthusiastic initiates already familiar with the author and/or their work. In the poetry world, where convincing a publisher to put out your book is like convincing a stranger to toss all their clothes out of an airplane, chapbooks are the currency of the young and the previously unpublished. But they are also the currency of established poets enamored with the brevity of a form which, like the novella, allows for a more compact mode of expression. Lynn Sukenick’s Houdini is a cycle of poems too short to stand alone as a book, but which expresses a complete poetic thought, perfectly suited for a chapbook.

Houdini was published in 1973, as number fourteen in the Yes! Capra Chapbook Series, which includes such luminaries as Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, Andrei Codrescu, Diane di Prima, and Ray Bradbury. One hundred numbered, signed, and hand-bound copies were each illustrated with Sukenick’s own black-and-white collages. It is a tiny thing, this pocket-sized book with red paper covers printed with silver and black ink. The poems inside, however, are anything but slight. Numbered one through twenty-five, they investigate Houdini’s inner life and the ways in which the poet identifies with a performer who “always started, himself, / what he meant to undo.”

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Meehan Crist

Meehan Crist is Reviews Editor for the Believer.

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