Review – ‘Strange Furniture’ by Lannie Stabile

I received a digital copy of the book from the author.

In naming her chapbook Strange Furniture, Lannie Stabile has arrived at the perfect metaphor. Imagine your formative years as a recently vacated apartment; consider what odd relics might be left behind there, taking up space. What clues might they offer? What stories could they hold, and how could you weave them together into something cohesive and tangible? In this chap, the author gathers together these bit and pieces left behind in her head, and tries to make sense of them.

Lannie reflects on her childhood, and the impact it continues to have on her both physically and emotionally. The wisdom and distance of years sees her looking back with an understanding that takes her young desire for love and frames it in the context of codependence. Events take on a new meaning as she examines the choices made by others, and the impacts those choices had on her relationships with those people. In ‘A Lesson In Loving Your Mother’, she writes:
You will learn choosing a parade of clomping work boots and eager fists over a precocious child begging for four safe walls was just that: a choice. 
There is a full range of familial connections held to the light; mother-daughter, father-daughter, brother-sister. The way these weave together to tint the adult perspective on relationships is poignant. The echoes into the future are presented in the actions deemed acceptable:
i became so skilled at self-deprecation. i would sling vicious jokes before anyone else could
Each moment is carefully selected to demonstrate a cause and effect. And while there is darkness, there are also flashes of beauty. The difficult but enduring love between siblings is rendered sweetly in ‘On Pennsylvania Road’, and there is a suggestion in the final poem that a kind of peace is not completely beyond reach. There is also a yearning here, a strong sense of grief for what wasn’t.

Stabile works pleasingly with form, keeping the book fresh throughout with a mix of prose poetry and more structured works. Of particular note is the way she offsets single words from the body of a poem, in order to highlight an underlying message. Examples of this include ‘The Birch Is Too Proud’ and ‘Childhood Economics’, which is even more effective due to the use of hyphenated words in a form of enjambment. The titular poem is visually striking in its white space and symmetry, and the knowledge that Lannie’s use of form is so intentional has the reader poring over the words, looking for the hidden secrets. This helps the book stand up well to repeated readings; it’s easy to go back again and again, looking at the different ways the poems link together.

Lannie Stabile has created a comprehensive narrative about family, grief, anger, and how these things shape our world views. Strange Furniture serves as a reminder that while these worn, mismatched fragments remain in the rooms of our minds, we can re-examine them, shift them around, and eventually come to an arrangement we can live in.

Strange Furniture releases August 2020 and is available for pre-order now from Neon Hemlock.

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