Arsenic Lobster poetry journal
Issue Twenty-seven
Winter 2011
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Letters from Room 27 of the Grand Midway Hotel
Margaret Bashaar

Blood Pudding Press, 2011

Read one of Margaret’s poems in Arsenic Lobster issue 18 Winter 2008

How to Destroy Angels

A new, bedeviled collection from Blood Pudding Press, Margaret Bashaar’s second chapbook, Letters from Room 27 of the Grand Midway Hotel, was composed within a haunted—you dreamed it—hotel—and—by the keys of a haunted typewriter. You didn’t dream that.

It took five years. These 14, unmarred, lyrical horror poems are infested with line breaks which hang you and leave you sliced off, / a closed fist. Bashaar’s ghost girls are more alive than dead.

Furthermore, and just as you might suspect, the Grand Midway Hotel is a real, haunted hotel—quite the setting for writing of poems. The hotel has always been a space of huge creative power for me, says Bashaar, and for many artists who pass through there. When the hotel takes you in, you belong.

Writers and artists may get lost within the haunted hotel but readers are sure to follow Bashaar’s lines which, more often than not, form complete sentences. Readers are generously informed by the uncanny, regional language from the first line of the book:

I know I’m not the only one who dreams
of watching all the boys who almost fucked me commit suicide, Claire says.

to the very last:

She swallows morning glories
until something bursts inside her and she
speaks suddenly in tongues and she understands it all.

The book itself is a beast easily tamed. Beautifully crafted with a spine you’ll pet and a tail you’ll yank more than once; readers indulge in each marble page scarred by typewriter ink. This is Blood Pudding Press at its best. The chap is hand sewn by the gifted poet, editor and sock connoisseur, Juliet Cook. This is how you’ll know you’re reading love letters. You’ll smell each page, hoping ghost girl, Claire, has left some scent you can stalk.

Claire is half way home now, with skinned knees and a summer
full of wilting flowers. She slides her hands
over the places on her body where she has been burned the pinkest,

Bashaar frames the haunting narrative with two central characters, Claire and Mary, who illuminate poems with ghastly brilliant beginnings often, only to end abruptly, if not violently:

The next morning he threw her down a stairwell
made secret by falling, smashed her on the floor –
there is no piece of her larger than his hand.
She imagines sometimes that shards of her slice
through his lips at her chest and neck,
that she shrugs him off like a stone.
(“Claire Visits the Old Hotel”)

Bashaar raises many questions: How can one experience such beauty only to attempt to destroy it? How do we, as humans, ward off such destruction? How do we absorb the violence of living, the violence of relationships?

If Claire is the girl no man can kill then Mary is the visionary:

Mary is a prophet some days,
reads her own bones and pieces herself back
together with ribbons and glue.
She gets a hold on everyone she meets,
fingers gentle hooks, folds up tiny boxes,
whispers into all of them the secrets she can’t keep.
(“The Girl Who Kept Secrets”)

Is Claire chased by a demon hunter or is Claire chasing him? Are Mary and Claire sisters? Who murdered whom? Is the Proprietor really Lord Byron?

All these questions and more are answered in the Letters from Room 27 of the Grand Midway Hotel. This is a chapbook you’ll read and keep reading, wondering about and hoping for the full length collection.

Susan Yount
Editor & Publisher, Arsenic Lobster Poetry Journal
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