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Shift by Alyse Bensel | Word Riot

November 15, 2012      

Shift by Alyse Bensel

Review by Sara Habein

This may sound like a superficial thing, but I really like the cutout on Shift‘s cover. The staple-bound chapbook has a thick cardstock cover with one third of a circle removed to reveal part of the title page. Shift implies both a change in consciousness and the literal duration of one’s work. Change and effort — Alyse Bensel’s poems occupy the contemplative spaces of employment.

Bensel is a former Word Riot contributor, and four of the poems in Shift — “Make Do and Make Mend,” “Pin-Up Girls,” “Saturday Night Reunion,” and “Two Years Until I See Him Again” — were previously published here. She writes mainly of blue collar jobs, with truckers, delivery and factory workers experiencing both pride and exhaustion in their work. Lower-level retail positions also make appearances:

“PETCO at Night”

Aquarium fish look like mechanical
wind-up toys. Opaline or starburst or emerald green
describe barbus or brochis or
gynmocorumbus. The water pump flares
sidefins and whiskers. Tetras troll the bottom
of pink pop rock gravel.
A floundering Butterfly Balloon Molly
performs a sideshow for children
who muddy clarity with their fingers
or cause underwater earthquakes with a tap
on the glass. In my dream last night:
the catfish’s white whiskers, illuminated,
ignited to white hot flames that licked
the sides of the tank, made water boil.

With lines like “Mind bridges in early freezes” and “White old men in plastic chairs lean,” Bensel has a talent for creating very specific images that imply multiple meanings. It is easy to see the places in which these poems exist. There is also a definite connection to nature, with birds and water making frequent appearances, and the temperature is often chilly.

Not every poem was amazing for me, and a few like “Get Nailed” and “Instructions on How to Write a Screenplay” seemed out of place amidst the gritty diner-types and army vets “gettin’ raw.” It’s not that they are bad poems, of course, but they felt like inserted afterthoughts because they were available.

Still, Bensel has written a very promising chapbook that suggests great writing to come. I do hope we one day see a more expansive collection with her very capable command of theme.

Full Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the author as a review copy.

About the reviewer:

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus and Persephone Magazine, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the editor of Electric City Creative.

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