In Memory of Exoskeletons by Rebecca Cuthbert
Alien Buddha Press (January 2023)
53 pages; $10.99 paperback
Reviewed by Joshua Gage
Rebecca Cuthbert is a speculative, slipstream, and dark fiction and poetry writer living in Western New York. She is an Affiliate Member of the Horror Writers Association. She loves ghost stories, folklore, witchy women, and anything that involves nature getting revenge. Her debut poetry collection, In Memory of Exoskeletons, is out now with Alien Buddha Press. In Memory of Exoskeletons is a book that teeters between the personal and the horrific, memoir and terror, and takes the reader through the shifts and shudders eloquently.
Some of the poems in this book are gentle poems, quietly domestic even. For example, a poem like “Better Homes & Gardens, June 1932,” which begins
So much wisdom
for 50 cents at a yard sale.
focus on a curious life, one of cozy safety and second-hand comfort. Elsewhere, readers encounter poems like “Driving by Willowbrook Cemetery” criticizing dog walking rules in a rural cemetery. Lines like
I hereby declare
let each dog
shit on my grave
lift its hairy hind leg
my chiseled name
in the piss
it’s saved up
just for that walk
are fun and joyful observances of daily life. The pinnacle of this sort of poem in this collection is the celebratory “Women’s Work,” a poem that begins:
Sue me if I like the way a sun-warmed
blueberry rolls in my palm and pops in my teeth—
Call a mob of 90s feminists
due to double rows of corn-confettied
salsa jars giving me thrills—
Tell me I’m a hermit!
This is a poem that cheers the domestic and champions the tidy and organized cottage aesthetic against the urban and industrial.
Cuthbert, however, reveals a dark underbelly to this cottage fantasy. “Bloodthirsty,” a poem that starts with a reversal of Emily Dickinson and builds from there:
Hope is not
a thing with feathers;
but scales and plates, a thick carapace.
Not easily plucked.
Not fragile enough.
Armor too solid and heavy to fly.
This is the stuff of nightmares, and Cuthbert leans into this imagery well. These poems culminate with the domestic theme in the short, striking, and haunting poem “Unlisted.” It’s twelve lines of poignant depth that will linger with the reader long after the collection is closed.
In Memory of Exoskeletons is a really strong book of horror poetry. Rebecca Cuthbert expertly balances domestic, feminine-charged imagery against dark, horror-imagery into a haunting collection. There’s something in this collection that every poetry reader will enjoy, especially fans of horror poetry.