What a gift: a new book of searingly intelligent poems from a uniquely eloquent poet. Gut-wrenching honesty, spiritual courage, and unflinching vision are what it takes to visit Medusa’s Country. It’s not easy to find a guide to take you there, but Larissa Shmailo is ready for the job. Shmailo draws on the experience of her immense challenges—prostitution, alcoholism, drugs and insanity—and her immense advantages—a gift for poetic form, a razor-sharp mind, the spirit of a mystic, and a deep intimacy with world literature and culture—to share with us precious and hard-learned lessons: the necessity not only to survive but to triumph, and the crucial place of art and culture in that achievement. Brace yourself. Medusa’s Country is a book to savor, and Larissa Shmailo, novelist, translator, and poet of urgent maturity and resonant depth, is a writer to watch.
—Annie Finch, author of Spells: New and Selected Poems
Medusa peels herself from the pages of mythology to become a denizen of New York City’s margins. There, she waltzes with Thanatos: “The dance with death? / Ah, this: as I flirt, you draw near.” When Eros shows up, he lures Medusa on a peregrination toward self. She packs her poet’s suitcase of prosody and nuanced rhymes. Along the way, the gorgon assumes other personae, including a whore named Nora. These poems lead the reader through histories of misogyny and sexual abuse. Convinced of her prowess, this Medusa stares into the mirror, where she confronts distorted notions of normalcy. Despite landing on a psychiatric ward, she frees herself with sardonic wit and blade-sharp language. With verve, with chutzpah, with urgency, Larissa Shmailo’s poems are spells, transforming stone into flesh and death into an affirmation of life.
—Dean Kostos, author of This Is Not a Skyscraper
At the heart of this viscerally dictioned masterwork of myth and ritual is an uncompromising dedication to formal poetic innovation. These poems parse matters of sex and literature, of life and death, not only of “I, Shmailo, dervish, a lover signed,” but of all who walk the questioning edges of sound, sense and what poetry can do to you.
—Lee Ann Brown, author of Other Archer and In the Laurels, Caught