L.I. Henley’s stunning new book, Starshine Road, deals with coming of age in the Mojave, with nothing softened or left out, not the haunt that animates the stillness, not the junk piles, wrecked homesteads, ruined families, not the way grief is washed down through slot canyons into alluvial fans deep enough to bury a girl. These poems are willing to be homesick for the entire desert including its extra dimensions, to lean beyond human into animal mind, to be afraid, to wander naturally through fear’s kingdom, through the little dangers and the large, under the dark metal of night pitted with scattershot stars.
-Marsha de la O
Staring down unsettling aspects of her youth, L.I. Henley combs through shards of her rough terrain, while mapping her own desert gothic in this brilliant new collection of poems. She reveals “the swirling dust lit / by a pick-up’s low-beams,” and she knows where there are “branches of juniper glowing pink / under Sam’s neon sign.” Armed with gutsiness and linguistic radiance, she sings about a ghostly shoe tree and for those people who have touched her life. Never forgetting she’s on Starshine Road, Henley persists in finding talismans glinting with promise and possibility.
The clarity and ingenuity with which L.I. Henley attends her subjects in Starshine Road is instantly engaging. The details crackle. The circumstances and finely-tuned emotions envelop you. Here is an accessible poetic voice replete with acuity and grace. Her style feels like fresh air.
Where can you find a swimming pool full of monkeys? Revenge driving a red Lamborghini? A honeymoon where tarantulas moved in “like carnivals/that broke down & never left”? In L.I. Henley’s remarkable, first full-length collection of poetry, THESE FRIENDS THESE ROOMS, you will find such strange, beautiful and unexpected images that this book will feel like “a giant’s coffin” in the middle of your living room. My suggestion: Resist the urge to run; embrace all that crawls out, stands before you naked, stitched together and rebuilt. Darkness tempered by a lust for life so full, shocks these poems into being—fearless, fully alive and alert. This is poetry at its most sublime, and, as in all great volumes of verse, we come to admire the writer of these poems—her resilience, grace, grit and, most of all, her astonishing wisdom. I adore this book.
-Kristin Bock, author of Cloisters
Lauren Henley doesn’t exactly “write”—rather, it’s as if she breathes these poems into being. Complex and accessible, informed by quotidian tribulations, this is brazen, unpredictable poetry by a woman with incalculable powers of observation and empathy. Henley so fully understands the hardscrabble paycheck-to-paycheck life known by more and more Americans that her aesthetic is equal parts invention and endurance. The volume evokes a world of torn lace, worn rooms, sonatas, and capital-R Revenge; of coveralls, surgical scars, heart-close friends, and rain-swollen gutters; of porno shops, caskets, hold-tight love, and lost-and-found notices. Lean, innovative, spare of punctuation and sentiment, THESE FRIENDS THESE ROOMS serves as a guide to surviving a culture that delivers considerably less than it promises. Welcome to the inner life of a woman who has the heart, ingenuity, and imagination to triumph with her identity not merely intact but refortified every day.
-Kevin Clark, author of In the Evening of No Warning and Self-Portrait with Expletives
L.I. Henley’s remarkable meditative sequence, The Finding, emerges as part genesis tale and part post-apocalyptic fable, as a contemporary Eve and her partner try to forge a life in the shifting dreamscape of Arcata—a town awash in a constant rain, somber reflections, and shifting tides of mud—a place both actual and metaphorical. How do we, Neruda asked, claim our residence on the earth? In The Finding we watch the grace and courage of its speaker revealed even as her hope, like the ground beneath her feet, seems to be slowly, repeatedly, washing away. What a powerful, deeply moving book.
-David St. John
In L.I. Henley’s tragicomic masterpiece, Desert with a Cabin View, the lunar landscapes of Joshua Tree form a Rorschach test asking, Am I old or young? Is this world endlessly dying or endlessly being born? One answer: “Sit here long enough / everything laughs.” Indeed, this poet laughs back the sorrow and dances on the rim of the void, filling the emptiness with inquisitive combinations of divine junk and rusty haloes, with the artist’s resilience and fertility of mind to find, to tend, and to make new. The objects of the desert revolve in constellations, and the poet locates herself there, revolving with them, alive and thriving. By this she is reconciled to creation, and to the inexhaustible generosity of her own playful wisdom.