Secret Letters
j/j hastain
Crisis Chronicles Press, 2013

[Editor’s note: Xe and xyr are the personal pronouns preferred by many including j/j.]

Entering into one of j/j’s books is to always enter into interesting visions of language and surprise. To call xyr work hybrid is too easy and lazy, because xe defies narrow boxes of description. Xe is more deceptive than a surrealist. j/j is clever, with great vocabulary and xyr landscapes challenge perception, interpretation, and often reality. Xe is more like the trickster Coyote with xyr choices.

Xyr latest book, Secret Letters is written like a letter to someone, unknown, left in the most unusual places, waiting for someone to discover the letter’s secrets. It does not matter if the letters fall into the wrong hands, or if the wrong person reads them. What matters is if the person who finds the letters dares to read what is clearly not intended for them. It makes us voyeurs. I feel like I am at a peek show, or Snowden looking at numerous tapped phone messages. I feel dirty and thrilled.

j/j leaves these Letters in a “bowl of a Baobab tree’s trunk.” The only things I know about Baobab trees is that they are in Africa somewhere, and they are mentioned in the book The Little Prince. Neither of these pieces of information helps me to understand. What I need to know is that the letters were placed there and nowhere else. Some of the letters are addressed to “Dear still unforeseen,” and some are only addressed to “Dear.” j/j expects a stranger to find and read these letters.

These are not prose poems, although they appear like them; nor are they strictly letters, although they appear like them. The poems are poetic, but they are not poetry. What they do, and do well, is startle. Some are nothing more than a single line: “There are ways to turn the orbs inside out without having to break them.” You wonder why anyone would want to turn an orb inside out, plus you want to know how to do it, but you are not told these things. You are left with a mystery.

I have read xyr poems over the years. Xe always challenges gender identity. I think j/j has evolved from gender into something else. A shape-shifter always leaves you guessing. In one of these poems j/j writes, “Genders are and are not related to skins.” I think j/j shed xyr skin a long time ago.

I suggest people buy, read, and become transformed too.

Secret Letters cover art by Marnie Weber

[Reviewed by Martin Willitts, Jr, author of Searching for What Is Not There (Hiraeth Press, 2013) and William Blake, Not Blessed Angel But Restless Man (Red Ochre Press, 2014).]

Read a selection from Secret Letters in the Crisis Chronicles cyber litmag.

Buy Secret Letters for $7 from Amazon or directly from the press.

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