I received a copy of Kailey Tedesco’s LIZZIE, SPEAK for review purposes. As always, this review reflects only my honest thoughts on the book.
by Kailey Tedesco
Publication Date: February 19th 2019
Publisher: White Stag Publishing
Paperback; 52 Pages
Genre: Poetry Chapbook
A conjuring, an invocation, a communion with Lizzie Borden herself. These poems reveal—letter by word by line—a spirit, a history, an identity. Lizzie speaks through Tedesco.
I first heard about Lizzie, Speak months ago when Kailey mentioned it on Twitter. I’ve always been fascinated by Lizzie Borden and her alleged crime (what do you think–did she do it?), so when I saw that Kailey was engaging with Lizzie and the mythos surrounding her, I knew it was a book I would have to check out. Fortunately, White Stag Publishing was kind enough to offer a review copy, which made my reading and reviewing possible (thank you, White Stag!).
Needless to say, my expectations were met, if not exceeded, by this phenomenal collection. I forced myself to slow down my reading and spread the book out over more than a week rather than read through it in a day. It was so hard to put down! Still, I’m glad I let myself experience that first read over time to take it all in. Plus, it just means there will be a faster reread coming soon!
I’ve been a fan of Kailey and her work for quite some time, but I was nevertheless blown away by Lizzie, Speak. Knowing the case and the stories surrounding it fairly well definitely came in handy when it came to contextualising the poems, but it’s by no means a requirement. In fact, I learnt quite a bit from this reading, both through the text and through the research it inevitably prompted. Kailey clearly knows what she’s talking about and it shows: she truly gives Lizzie a voice.
Perhaps even more importantly, her passion for the subject shines through. In the dedication, Kailey reveals that her great-great-grandmother, Elsie Hawcroft, was Lizzie’s neighbour and, in her final note, she thanks those who’ve fostered this interest from a young age. As someone with a similar, though less personal, interest in Lizzie’s story, I found these moments to be especially touching.
But this clear passion and expertise do not end there. With each poem, they becomes all the more clear. I found myself marking down my favourite pieces, a list that grew longer each time I picked up the book (“Lizzie Romantic, Lizzie Rheumatic,” “Bent Spoon,” “I Ask the Netherworld if Lizzie Did It” are just a few). While it wasn’t my experience, I’m confident that someone who’s never even heard of Lizzie Borden (should such a person exist) could pick up Lizzie, Speak, and find themselves emotionally invested within a few pages.
As I mentioned, I found myself quickly wanting to research (and, in some cases, reresearch) Lizzie and her story while and after reading. At one point, I had the book in my hand and the trial transcripts up on my computer! Kailey’s own interest is so clear and absolutely infectious. Some of the best books ever written have been able to make that claim because they draw you into their world. In the case of Lizzie, Speak, this is as true as ever, and made all the more powerful for the pre-existing world of Lizzie Borden. When you finish reading these poems, you don’t have to mourn the world you’re leaving in its pages–you’re encouraged to continue Lizzie’s story.
About the Author
Kailey Tedesco is the author of She Used to be on a Milk Carton (April Gloaming Publishing) and These Ghosts of Mine, Siamese (Dancing Girl Press). She is the co-founder of Rag Queen Periodical and an associate editor for Luna Luna Magazine. Currently, she teaches literature and writing in Bethlehem, PA and co-curates Philly’s A Witch’s Craft reading series. You can find her work featured in Electric Literature, Prelude, fields, Bone Bouquet Journal, Fairy Tale Review, Grimoire, Phoebe Journal, and others. For more information, please visit kaileytedesco.com or follow @kaileytedesco.