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House of Burnt Offerings
by Judith Skillman
100 pages/46 poems
Publisher: Pleasure Boat Studio: A Literary Press
201 West 89th Street
New York, NY 10024
Buy on AMAZON
ABOUT THE BOOK:
In this collection the house is the book and the poems are the offerings. The work contains elements of
surrealism found in César Vallejo's Trilce, and language in the poem "Die Kinder" echoes Vallejo's stret-
ched syntax. The epigraph for Part I, "We struggle to thread ourselves through the eye of a needle, /Face
to face with the desires..." (Vallejo) addresses the sadness inherent in desire‐the difficult territory
between want and satisfaction. Desire can become a wound or an abyss, as it does in "Kafka's Wound' and
"Mis en Abyme".
Part II navigates desire gone wrong with another Vallejo epigraph: "Second degree burn/in desire's every
tender excrescence..." Here possible immoralities are explored. An "excrescence" is a lump or growth.
"Hashimoto's Disease" begins: "I dreamt a trunk/came down from the ceiling‐/wrinkled and gray/as an elephant's."
Part III employs ceremony, dress, and costume as metaphors for protection, with the quote "Hope grieves
between cotton." In poems "Atonement" and "The Rustling," cloth, calico, and seams are juxtaposed against
the prickling of "The Succulents." Centipedes, scorpions, and black widows are found in "The Courtyard."
Consolation may be rare in human interactions, and dangerous to seek in the wild. Yet it exists in nature's
organic forms‐stars, flowers, plants, rivers. Ultimately, the mysteries of earth become the fruit, the flesh,
the birth after burning.
In House of Burnt Offerings Judith Skillman makes everyday life the province of the tough questions she asks, and
the lucid, restless, energetic and often stunning language that can surprise us with lines like "the sharp shears/
of our smiling teeth." Her imagery ranges from windfall apples to Kafka and everywhere between. In what this poet
calls her "solitary watch" readers will encounter the intelligence and honesty of the real thing.
House of Burnt Offerings reads like an incantation‐alchemical arrangements of language that rouse a reader into new
forms of wakefulness. Precise images embed themselves in the mind; fluid sequences evoke a multitude of emotional
responses. Reading Skillman's poems, I felt more acutely my own desire to be fully alive, the pressing realities of
beauty and loss.
~John Amen, editor of The Pedestal Magazine
With contagious mood and relentless wisdom, House of Burnt Offerings is a black-magic mix of fire and ash, with smoke
curling up to mourn, bear witness, and transform "the stink and blush/of remembrance" into a rallying cry. By drawing
such careful, musical portraits of her ghosts, Skillman has created a triumph of survival to please the gods.
~Tina Kelley, author of Precise
I admire poems so rich they seem like distillations of a well-plotted fiction. Here are the glints and passions
and sorrows‐and yes, the phrases lifted from old conversations‐of a family living in the House of Burnt Offer-
ings. Quick silhouettes are not exactly ghosts, and they aren't really fragments either. Still, as if from a post-
modern novel (Virginia Woolf would understand) they become carefully designed clues to a plot presented in
All these fragments,
and others that state their desires
whenever we sweep out our houses,
and the dust catches in our throats.
In her latest multi-structured, mostly lyrical, collection, one begins to feel that Judith Skillman's poems might be
"swept" or grouped completely differently and her rather mysterious telling will still emerge. It thrusts itself for-
ward here, or maybe glides out there occasionally, as in a contemporary musical play in which the lead has its own
range of insistent motifs:
The end tables in that muggy-colored living
room held other end tables.
But let's go back to my desire that you should read the story
of my dissolute family.
("Mis En Abyme")
Poetry readers will be eager to try their various hands at deciphering or perhaps re-partnering these compelling
~ Pat Hurshell
Judith Skillman is the author of fifteen collections of poetry. Her work has appeared in many journals and anthologies,
including FIELD, The Iowa Review, Poetry, Prairie Schooner, The Southern Review, Midwest Quarterly Review, and New
Poets of the American West. She is the recipient of awards from the Academy of American Poets, the Washington State Arts
Commission, the Centrum Foundation, and other organizations. Skillman has taught in the field of Humanities at many colleges
and universities. She lives and writes in Newcastle, Washington.
FROM THE BOOK:
The Green Hour
by Judith Skillman
One to go and workday's finished,
smudged like droplets against
the window. Who else craves
anise-flavored spirits of Grande wormwood,
sweet fennel, la fée verte?
Van Gogh, Verlaine, Baudelaire, Rimbaud
gathered in cafés to toast
the green fairy, her garters mussed
to better hold Artemis' long-legged
beauty. Poor petite absinthe-nymphet
bird of five o' clock intermission
from office, bank, shop, boulangerie.
Wearing clothes she's stolen
from the milliner. A loiterer who learns
nothing, an eye silted with sun.
When did the rhythm of raindrops
leave the weaver? The sound of songs
keep the young from whimsy?
All pastorals praise Pan, and he gone
with syrinx, goats, sheep-run overland.