Spectacle

Cover design by Jolie Sebastian

In Spectacle, Lauren Goodwin Slaughter’s second full-length collection, the poet deepens her commitment to the enduring and eternal subjects of womanhood, motherhood, and family, and deftly considers how those devotions intersect in ways joyful, mysterious, and cruel within personal and political landscapes.  Slaughter’s poems seek out and explore authentic, raw humanity, at times employing the gaze of Dutch photographer and artist, Rineke Dijkstra—several of whose photographic portraits are included in the collection alongside ekphrastic poems—as a lens to view what Dijkstra calls the “uninhibited moment.” When artistic eye meets the fierceness of subject, the result is poetry deeply rooted in its lyricism and empathy, grounded in its depth of emotion, and unflinching in its alertness to the poet’s beloveds and world.  

Purchase Spectacle

Forthcoming March 2022

Praise for Spectacle

I love the poems in Spectacle by Lauren Slaughter. For the work they do and the speed they move and the light they shine. I love the world these poems make and so I love this awful world a little better, and I think that’s the sort of radical empathy that poems create: they enliven, they sing, they see. Slaughter writes at one point of “this elegant dark theory, / the starry hunger” and I can’t think of a better, truer invocation of love and life and the spells that hold us between them. Go read this book now.

– Paul Guest, author of Because Everything Is Terrible

Spectacle starts with the eye—the dead moth’s eyespot, the photographer’s eye behind the lens, the anxious eye of the mother watching through a door, who tries, impossibly, to translate the “ghost forest” of grief through which her children must move. But what’s so powerful about Lauren Slaughter’s poems is how the lens widens: “the throb of knowing, always, / what comes next—” poetry’s urgent power to improve our collective vision, to help us see the larger, fraught family of our humanity and its shared losses. Knowing deeply the invisibility that comes with motherhood, womanhood, and otherhood of many kinds, Slaughter refuses to let the edges of her poems’ sight blur, and, in the space beyond ekphrasis, where real life is captured, she “reach[es] / for some / right word.” I, as her ardent reader, am better for it.

– Jenny Molberg, author of Refusal

Threaded throughout this stunning collection are ekphrastic poems responding to Rineke Dijkstra’s photographs. And like Dijkstra, Lauren Slaughter is concerned with what appearances try to conceal—the complicated emotions that lurk around everyday activities from celebrating an aging parent’s birthday to navigating a store’s clothing rack. Moving seamlessly between moments of quiet joy and sudden heartache, these finely chiseled poems rise from the page to provide comfort with their vulnerability, lyrical surprise, and wisdom. If there was ever a book that spoke to this era, it is this one. 

– Charlotte Pence, author of Code

Information about the Author

Lauren Goodwin Slaughter is a 2021 NEA Fellow in Poetry and also the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, and a Walter E. Dakin Fellowship from Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Her first poetry collection, a lesson in smallness, was a finalist for the Rousseau Prize for Literature. Her poems, stories, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Harvard Review, Image, North American Review, 32 Poems, Love’s Executive Order, Pleiades, and Kenyon Review Online, among many other places. She wrote the libretto for Already Root, a feminist retelling of the Eurydice and Orpheus myth, composed by Maxwell Dulaney and performed by the New York-based Talea Ensemble in spring of 2018. She is an associate professor of English at The University of Alabama at Birmingham where she is also Editor-in-Chief of NELLE, a literary journal that publishes writing by women.  Find her at www.laurenslaughter.com.

Excerpt from Spectacle

ALICE THE CORPSE FLOWER BLOOMS AT THE CHICAGO BOTANIC GARDEN

— In September, 2015, thousands gathered to see Alice the Amporophallus, one of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s “corpse flowers,” named for their rancid stench, when she unexpectedly bloomed. 

And what woman 

hasn’t been thus 
gathered round,

a mob of cell phones 
raised like torches

poised to snag the spectacle

that is her efflorescence—
pompons peeping out

(glimpse of thigh
or thong)

ovules swollen 
with her fertile redolence?

Because smell is indifferent
to video or maybe more 

the dare you take
to taste the sour milk

a queue of tourists forms 
to step right up to Alice’s enormous 

sex and nozzle in— 
whole heads will disappear 

in a cunnilingual pantomime 
the wincing faces say 

reeks of rotting flesh, 
or fish, or death. 

~

We use real words
at our house, not prim

approximations, not
the birdie of my childhood,

or girly bits, or vee-vee,
or hoo-hoo, or kitten,

yet despite my professorial directives 
my young daughter

refers only to her private
that is private 

in the singular, like signage 
on her bedroom door

years from now, and as if 
understanding, somehow, 

she must enlist
a part of herself always

to serve as her own soldier, 
her very own private, 

her protector, 
and I won’t correct her.