Every month, we shine the light on a book from our collection – one which is new to the library, which has been particularly enjoyed by a borrower, recommended by a volunteer, or which seems salient to the month’s events or happenings. To see the archive of past books of the month (formerly book of the week), click here.
The current book of the month is…
February: How To Extricate Yourself by Laura Theis
Any close follower of the Oxford arts scene knows that a debut collection from local writer, poet, and musician Laura Theis is eagerly awaited. And boy, was How To Extricate Yourself worth waiting for. Theis has previous in the music world, her songs characterized by sometimes whimsical, sometimes unsettling, always striking lyrics about unrequited love, werewolves, and recapturing your mermaid roots by sleeping in the shower. Her poetry strikes similar chords, and it’s a delight to have a whole collection to immerse yourself in Theis’s imagination.
There are elements of the tainted fairytale throughout the poems: witches and their familiars, curses and enchantments, but the strength of the collection lies in its firm grounding in reality. Theis’s tone is not fantastical, but often conversational. “Don’t tell your neighbours but / take the batteries out of your smoke detector / you’ll thank me later,” Theis warns in ‘advice from one who’s been burnt before,’ a poem with practical suggestions for taking a dragon as a pet. ‘Medusae’ offers comfort “on the day you wake up / with spiders instead of hair,” and reminds you, “They may stay. They may not. / They are here for now.” In ‘writer in residence,’ the first poet in space and stationed on the moon, writing with “black ink on moonstone / white chalk on lunar rock,” is a lonely imploring to those back home to “look up”. What is so striking about these stories is that even in their fantasy, there is something spookily familiar about them: being haunted by a threatening presence in your own house, feeling dissociated from yourself, loneliness and isolation. We’re all living through what is probably one of the weirder years of our lives. Reading poetry which not only embraces but advises on this weirdness is strangely comforting.
The collection is Theis in her element. She takes the reader by the hand to guide you into a world of monsters and insomnia, but it is a world she knows well. As ‘adaptation’ describes, she “was already expert at simmering in low-level dread / like black bath water.” It is possible to bear the worry and the uncertainty, tolerate the spiders of your hair, adopt the dragon, and live on the moon for a while. Poetry like this is there with us.