Review: What Flies Want by Emily Pérez

cover of What Flies Want by Emily PerezWhat Flies Want by Emily Pérez
University of Iowa Press (May 11, 2022)
96 pages; $19.95 paperback
Reviewed by Joshua Gage

Emily Pérez is an English and gender studies instructor and grade-level dean at Colorado Academy. She is the author of What Flies Want, winner of the Iowa Prize; House of Sugar, House of Stone; and the chapbooks Backyard Migration Route and Made and Unmade. She lives in Denver, Colorado. What Flies Want, her newest collection, is a dark collection of poems that deals with very real traumas — mental health, marriage difficulties, self-harm, etc. — and their very real consequences.

What Pérez does well is create poems that have this lingering sense of dread that permeates through them. There’s nothing overtly scary or gory in these poems, but there is a mood created of ominous fear that works on a primal level. For example, her poem “I Want These Problems to Stay Quiet Problems” begins:

let no light alight upon this larva
or visit this virus newly named. don’t tap
the glass before this adder, attempt to tame
this tempest in an Erlenmeyer flask.

These lines are sonically rich and fun to read out loud, but while they seem light and almost sing-song on the surface, a closer reading reveals something very large and scary and threatening about to happen. Pérez never states what it is, exactly, in the poem, and that almost makes it worse for the reader. 

Elsewhere, Pérez taps into some mythic images to create the horror of the experiences of her subjects. For example, “Once I Learned to Be a Girl” begins:

Once upon a time there was a little box,
a wooden vessel filled with tiny wants.

Once upon a time the box was buried,
the map and key tucked high upon a shelf.

And when her hands were free she cut
and colored, drew straight lines and crafted

This poem explores, with mythic and folkloric imagery from childhood stories, the pains of growing older and becoming more aware of the very real horror in the world. This approach is subtle with its horror, but like her other poems, the scary things are just at the edges waiting to grab the unsuspecting reader and leave them awake at night after reading.

What Flies Want is a solid collection of poetry. While it isn’t overtly horror (no zombies or werewolves or vampires, oh my…) it is a very strong collection of scary poetry. The monsters in this book are real, and Emily Pérez masterfully draws the reader’s attention to them and makes the reader afraid of them, which is a profound talent. This is a strongly recommended book for anyone interested in horror poetry. 

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