Reviewed by Sessily Watt
“I am Spyre,” begins the first poem in Jeanine Deibel’s enthralling chapbook. If this were fiction, the character of Spyre would be explained to the reader through the following pages, taking on a clear shape and occupying a distinct space in the world. But Deibel has other concerns. In the twenty-one untitled poems of Spyre, she creates a swirl of monologues, only some of which clearly belong to the title speaker. These voices rant at and about architecture and geometry, art, religion, and pop culture. They speak with an irreverence that is more surprising with classic art (“Michelangelo, your Moses be horny!”) than pop culture (“He–Man, you can’t be a badass / with bangs”), and express desire through exaggerated displays of masculinity that are all the more serious for being dressed in the ridiculous.
But who is Spyre? The opening talks of points and convergences, evoking the image of a spire rising atop a building. Slowly, the connections between Spyre and architecture are made explicit, though they retain metaphorical edges. “Watch me hedge / towards a point,” says the first poem, describing the concrete shape of a spire and, at the same time, describing the movement of the poem itself toward its end. Through this constant shift between the concrete and the metaphorical Deibel inscribes poetic concerns into the physical world. A building desires the neighboring church with the LED-scrolling sign. A spire threatens to tip off its building out of pride. The world of inanimate objects becomes active with desire.
Irreverence and desire, in combination, are highly combustible. This is most obvious in the poems centered within religious contexts. In the sixth poem, the speaker watches an altar boy, “baritone booming,” brag about his many girlfriends. The altar boy gets “satisfaction…from knowing / he has one in his back pocket at all times.” The speaker follows the altar boy’s advice and ties up the boy, keeping him “stashed in the shadow under / my favorite pew.” The image of the altar boy hog-tied under a pew is both ridiculous and horrifying, perhaps more so for the uncertainty of who is speaking in the poem. Is it a person, or, like Spyre, a part of the building? In either case, predatory desire is infused into the church, the poem echoing the horrors of the sexual abuse scandals in Roman Catholicism.
The other poems are less disturbing on first read. But even as we might laugh at Spyre’s rant against pockets – “Get your flappy, yellow–bellied TUCKS / the fuck away from me” – we can recognize the very real misogyny on display in a phallic-shaped structure ranting against pockets and tucks. This darkness runs through the poems, drawing our attention to violent ideas so ubiquitous they may as well be contained within our buildings. As with the best dark comedy, we laugh in horror as the ranting enthusiasm of Deibel’s speakers carries us past the point of comfort.
Sessily Watt writes a regular column on the fantastic for Bookslut. Her fiction appeared in NonBinary Review #3. Find updates and more at sessilywatt.weebly.com.