top of page

Paper Dolls & Books

Greetings! Why Paper Dolls & Books? The doll is a response to writing that moves me. It is a triangulation of the book's cover, content, and my own imagination. Someone smarter than me once said that "the best response to a poem is a poem." For me, the best response to a book that I can't stop thinking about is a paper doll. Click on each image below to enlarge. 

“I pretend I am dangerous/ some days, pull my hat down low/ and swagger like I know that/ murderous potential of my thumb, that faint difference between an oil spot/ and the human heart.” 


Like any successful fighting maneuver, I was not expecting the impact The Dead Wrestler Elegies would lay on me. I was not expecting that every poem would leave me winded from awe, holding my heart and gasping, “Damn”—only to be lovingly, gently lowered to the mat. Shame on me; I’d never considered professional wrestling as the perfect arena for exploring human drama at its most fundamental. Thankfully, Todd Kaneko has, and we are all the better for it. And isn’t that one of the most vital jobs of the poet? To show us how we fit within the very spheres we may have previously dismissed as crude, spectacle, other


Through finely crafted poems and elegantly rendered vector line illustrations, Kaneko weaves together the drama of two unexpectedly overlapping theaters: the wrestling ring and the family home. As all enduring stories do, the collection asks us again and again--Who are we? Who are we when we aren’t performing as fighter, as mother, father, rival, son? 


“When I watch men fight on television,/ it is my father in the grip of the masked man, it is me held aloft by the face and slammed/ heavy to the floor. We are all twisted/ into terrible shapes before the final bell.” 


The ah-ha moment of DWE’s brilliance arrives like a slap at the sounding of that bell: Wrestling, like loving, is a hazardous occupation. 


Originally released in 2014 by Curbside Splendor, the collection is newly republished by New Michigan Press as a Championship Edition that includes new poems and extra illustrations. To celebrate The Dead Wrestler Elegies, I made a paper doll duo: one based on Luna Vachon (see “Luna Vachon Is Your Shadow in the Darkness”) and the other on Bam Bam Bigelow. The real Luna and Bam Bam were a couple, and both died in their forties. Fully jointed and half dead, they’ve been resting in each other’s arms on my worktable for a few months, awaiting their comeback.


Help me celebrate the release of The Dead Wrestler Elegies: Championship Edition by ordering your copy through New Michigan Press. You can read a sample poem here and see more photos of the dolls by following me on Instagram @lihenleyart. 

Fire, birds, windows opening and closing, the long shadows of men who left. Loneliness and self-reliance and the red thread that remains of a scarf. Fathers and how they disappoint, how they resurrect and leave us but never leave us, our palms empty and waiting for them to notice.  Though a study of grief, at no turn does Nathan McClain's debut collection, Scale, sacrifice image or music for narrative. Rather Scale invites us to look at the delicate branch about to snap under the weight of the mockingbird, knowing its blues song is about us, too. With the devotion of a storm chaser, Scale relentlessly pursues the burn cycle of destruction and repair but not without consolation: "[W]ho can stop/ the wind from ripping shingles off the roof, stop/ the rain from coming in, from pinging/ the deep bottoms of pots which keep you awake?/ You do what you can. You build a bird house/ (one thing in the shape of holding another)/ from leftover wood; you leave seed/ and listen for days, as nothing/ but a small hope fills it." This is one of my favorite books of all time--it reads the way a good meal satisfies, leaving one nourished but wanting the experience over and over again. 


Fourway Books published Scale in 2017. The cover art is titled "House on Fire" by Famous When Dead. You'll want to read Scale as soon as possible so that you can be ready for his second book, Previously Owned. 

Kristin Bock's Glass Bikini will forever occupy a chamber of my squirmy heart for many reasons, one being that  I was an early reader for the manuscript and helped craft the book's description. I know this collection on an intimate level, and yet every time I read it (six times now!) I find a new, wriggling part of the monster, a sparkling ruby in the chaos, a reason to pick up my ray gun and join the fray. Tupelo Press published this bold, lyrical romp in 2022 and readers are going nuts for it. The cover and text design is by Ann Aspell and the cover photo credit belongs to ESA/ Hubble & NASA. From the book's description crafted by myself and other poets: "Part creation myth, part prophecy...[t]hese often darkly humorous poems guide readers into dreamscapes and underworlds that are ominously contemporary....Glass Bikini is both mirror and warning, asking us to see our own strange and terrifying shapes, the monsters we have helped create, and the ones we have become." For the Bunny Woman Doll, where does Glass Bikini end and my imagination begin? You'll have to pick up a copy of the book to find out. View more photos of Bunny Woman on my IG page. 

My second featured book of 2022 is Foxlogic, Fireweed by Jennifer K. Sweeney, which won The Backwaters Prize in Poetry from the University of Nebraska Press. The cover art was created by Ian Middelton and the original piece is titled "A Marc of Foxes" paying homage to Franz Marc. If I were to make a list titled “Five Poetry Books All Visual Artists Should Read,” Foxlogic would be one of them. Re-reading this collection, I kept a growing list of images I wanted to wear on my skin, or at least carry with me in my pockets: “ants hauling emeralds” of spilled sugar, a clutch of black widows living inside a child’s drum, “a sea of marionettes…hollow limbs rooted to strings,” “crows on a pomegranate tree,” beer cans stashed inside branches, a mother snow leopard—“her stillness and wild falling…a compass.” In order to really appreciate the choices I made for the Fox Spirit Doll (the patches, the deer leaping behind branches, the blue jay swooping in, the hourglass and pitcher constellations) you’ll have to gift yourself a copy of Foxlogic, Fireweed. Want to see more photos of this doll? Follow me on Instagram @lihenleyart.