The Sting of It by A.J. Odasso

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 95 pgs.
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The Sting of It by A.J. Odasso is a collection of poems exploring loss, grief, and the lasting sting of devastation. It’s almost like the bottom has fallen out of each narrator’s life. The cover is the outline of a bee with the interior of the outline the iconic Temptation of St. Anthony, which in this context highlights the temptations found in each poem and the struggle to reconcile the inevitable, lasting pain of life.

In “The Book of Drowned Things,” our narrator believes they are a ferryman whose job is to now shuttle people to the land of the dead. Images of death and sorrow hover like ghosts throughout the collection, even as the narrator makes a simple trip to the liquor store — what is this wine they buy, is it just another step on the path toward death and end to sorrow or is it simply just a bottle of wine? One of my favorites is “stone ghost” (below) because the narrator looks the monster in the eye without flinching, seeing beauty instead. It is this childlike response that makes it so easy to believe in Odasso’s dark fairytales.

stone ghost

Ancient monster, I remember the day
I first saw your face, spread my fingers

on the glass and breathed in awe. Eyeless,

your ghost peered through text and reflection
to welcome me home: This was the sea,

my daughter. Your time has come.

Odasso also modifies her poetry into different shapes on the page, which bring to life many of these narrative scenes. I love the poems in “Katadesmos” that mirror the curses that would have been written on them in Roman times. In “You’ll Never Know,” the narrator casts the first stone — like an instigator — shedding light on the short comings of a false deity. I can only think about our modern times here and the many false leaders we’ve had, particularly the current leader of the nation who “won’t listen or warn them.” But the narrator here warns that “We are stronger than you think, we whispers, and we/ push with our backs, our hands splayed against the glass. Your edifice shudders.”

I love the universality of The Sting of It by A.J. Odasso. I loved the collection’s classical undertones, its vivid language, and its personal nature. From illnesses to what identity means, especially the harsh atmosphere that can surround someone who lives outside the societal definitions. It’s time for broadening our definitions of identity, gender, and the self, and Odasso has called us to arms — no longer should we be complacent. Life asks us to feel the sting.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

A.J. Odasso‘s poetry has appeared in a variety of publications, including Sybil’s GarageMythic DeliriumMidnight EchoNot One of UsDreams & NightmaresGoblin FruitStrange HorizonsStone TellingFarrago’s WainscotLiminalityBattersea ReviewBarking Sycamores, and New England Review of Books.  A.J.’s début collection, Lost Books (Flipped Eye Publishing), was nominated for the 2010 London New Poetry Award and was also a finalist for the 2010/2011 People’s Book Prize. Their second collection with Flipped Eye, The Dishonesty of Dreams, was released in 2014; their third-collection manuscript, Things Being What They Are, was shortlisted for the 2017 Sexton Prize.  They hold an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Boston University, where they were a 2015-16 Teaching Fellow, and work at the University of New Mexico.  A.J. has served in the Poetry Department at Strange Horizons since July 2012.

Guest Post: A.J. Odasso Talks About Her Experience With a Small Publisher

Today’s guest post is from poet A. J. Odasso.  She’s kindly offered to talk about her submission experiences with small presses as part of the March celebration of small and indie publishers.

As small and independent poetry presses go, the publishers of my chapbook and my collection—Maverick Duck Press and Flipped Eye Publishing respectively—are success stories, and I’m both pleased and proud to be working with them. Fortunate, too, as it seems that where larger, more commercial publishers have been particularly hard-hit by the recent global economic chaos, smaller presses have been better situated to weather these difficult times because they’re more likely to have made cautious financial decisions from the outset. That’s not to say that small and independent presses have it easy right now. I don’t think anyone does.

However, security wasn’t first and foremost on the list of qualities I was seeking in publishers when I first started submitting poetry manuscripts in earnest. From 2005 through 2007 (my first two years of submitting work for publication, period), my poetry and short fiction had met with reasonable success in magazines and anthologies, both online and in print. By early 2007, I had accrued enough poetry to assemble the earliest version of what is now my first collection, Lost Books. I aimed high in the first few rounds of submitting it to publishers; any high-profile US or UK operation open to unsolicited poetry manuscripts at the time doubtless got my query letter and a sample of the manuscript. I spent a little over two years receiving responses that were split between the form-letter “Sorry, this isn’t for us right now” and “Hey, we like your sample, would you please send the whole thing,” only to eventually meet with rejection. During that time, I continued to write, and my list of magazine and anthology credits grew. It was sometime during late 2008 when I decided to assemble a chapbook-length manuscript made up of some newer work, Devil’s Road Down, and submit it to Maverick Duck Press, with which I was familiar thanks to a friend who had been published there. I sent it off and promptly forgot about it.

In February 2009, I received an invitation from a colleague in London (at the time, I was living in York, although I’m now a Londoner myself) to read as part of a line-up of poets being billed as The Sad Poets’ Society at the Last Tuesday Society‘s Valentine’s Day Ball. The event itself was lavish, chaotic, and decidedly alcoholic, as most of the masked and costumed crowd didn’t pay the slightest bit of attention to us as we took the spotlight one by one. We were paying attention to each other, though, as after we’d all read, I somehow became engaged in a conversation with one of the other poets whose work I’d thoroughly enjoyed, Nii Ayikwei Parkes. I was delighted to hear that his work was available in print, and that’s the point at which I got the same question in turn: so, do you have a collection? Having to give the answer “Yes, but it’s not published yet, and I’ve been sending it out for months” had always been incredibly frustrating, but, much to my dismay, Nii produced a business card and told me to send him the manuscript. Not only was he a poet, but he was a publisher. If it turned out not to be a good fit for Flipped Eye, he said he’d certainly be able to give me advice as to other places I might look into. Nii’s kindness and forthrightness are, I don’t doubt, just two of the many reasons that Flipped Eye has managed to build such an excellent reputation amongst UK independent publishers.

It took me a week or so to work up the nerve to send the manuscript. In the two or three weeks that I spent waiting for Nii to respond, I heard from Kendall A. Bell at Maverick Duck Press, who said he’d like to publish Devil’s Road Down in autumn 2009. Kendall is a responsive, enthusiastic editor whose endeavors at Maverick Duck truly are a labor of love. The chapbooks he publishes are only available through Maverick Duck’s website, although the back-catalogue of titles (stretching back as far as 2003) is both varied and impressive. Although based in the US, Maverick Duck publishes poets from around the globe. Kendall’s eye for distinct voices and unique, memorable viewpoints has, no doubt, ensured the press’s consistent standard of excellence.

A week or so later, word came back from Nii: Lost Books had the green light, and I’d be joining the Flipped Eye family in early 2010. Along with his small team of co-editors, Nii works tirelessly to ensure that Flipped Eye poets and writers have regular opportunities to perform in and around London (and beyond, as I’ve been part of events in Leeds, Manchester, and York). I’ve met and become friends with many of the other writers represented by Flipped Eye, as well as become familiar with their work (I particularly recommend Malika Booker, Inua Ellams, Agnes Meadows, Niall O’Sullivan, and a forthcoming collection of short stories from Leila Segal). When I call Flipped Eye a family, I mean it in the truest sense of the term. Ultimately, if I’d been successful with one of the larger publishers, I would’ve missed out on being part of the tight-knit community dynamic that small and independent presses foster.

Thanks, Adrienne, for taking part in March’s celebration.

About the Poet:

A. J. Odasso is currently completing her Ph.D. in English at the University of York (UK). Her poetry has appeared in a number of publications on both sides of the Atlantic, including Strong Verse, Aesthetica, Sybil’s Garage, Succour, Farrago’s Wainscot, The Liberal, Mythic Delirium, Jabberwocky, Cabinet des Fées, Midnight Echo, and Not One of Us—with new work forthcoming in Illumen, Dreams & Nightmares, Orbis, and others. Her first full poetry collection, Lost Books, is forthcoming from Flipped Eye Publishing in April 2010.  Her first print chapbook, Devil’s Road Down, is currently available from Maverick Duck Press.