Hard Reds by Brandi Homan
Chicago-based writer Brandi Homan's first full length collection of poems, Hard Reds, is a fun read chock full of all those things hard red might suggest -- nightlife, violence, passion, red dresses, sex, playfulness, paper hearts, lipstick, blood, and more. Divided in three sections, each section title also evokes the color red: "Like the Devil," "Two Kinds of Arson," and "The Valentine Factory." The author/speaker of the poems is someone who is not afraid to play with fire, someone who lives fast and hard, experiencing life in its fullest -- all the ins and outs, ups and downs. With a careful eye for detail, Homan is unabashed and direct. A little like Johnny Rotten, Homan may not know what she wants, but she knows how to get it.
In "Both Ends of This Road Lead to Desert," Homan writes, "I've never met a man / I couldn't get a good poem from." Nothing is off limits; the entire world is here for Homan to use, to bend and shape to her own device. And use it all she does. Hard Reds is full of post-industrial love poems written to former lovers, family members, friends, motorcycles, cities, and other writers. In “Looking for Desnos” and “Put Your Hands on the Plow and Hold On,” Homan hints at a literary lineage that includes Robert Desnos, Ed Roberson, and Nick Flynn.
There is a sharp wit to much of Homan’s writing as well as a sense of playfulness, whether it comes in the form of misreading a sign that says “Adopt a Pet” as “Adopt a Poet,” or writing a poem that is to be sung to the tune of “Friends in Low Places.” There are a number of pop culture references including a poem titled “Scarlett Johansson’s Pink Panties,” and “Poem in Which I am My Own Porn Star” in which the speaker admits to most days just wanting to live in a Crate & Barrel catalog and the inability to stop watching Law & Order. In the poem “Origins,” Homan muses, “How strange to be named / after alcohol and a song / about a cocktail waitress,” explaining her penchant for high heels, cheap silver, and “the need for everything / raw and fast.”
The playfulness extends into experimentation with form, including non-traditional takes on the sonnet like in “Garden Run Wild,” and “Red Dress Cento” which appears in three parts, one for each section of the book. A cento is a poem that is made up entirely of quotations from the works of other writers. Homan’s cento revolves around images of a red dress and draws from sources including poets and songwriters:
You’re a little bluejay in a red dress
on a sad night. Drink, and let my hand
open your red dress, my mouth consent
to its good fever. Do I say this life is beautiful
and dangerous, a red dress soaked in gasoline?
Too often you wake up holding the phone
in a tight red dress. You never arrived splendid
in your red dress without trouble for me…
Throughout the collection, the reader develops a sense of a young poet who is very much in control, whether it is through her mastery control of language, or through the control she seems to hold over her subjects as she offers direct challenges like in the poem “Siren”: “Bite my lip and see / what color I bleed.” This hard edge sometimes gives way to more tender moments like in the acknowledgment of failure in the poem “Labrador”: “My shoulders just wouldn’t fit // into your aching, / overgrown hands.”
This confident debut promises much more to come, as Homan herself admits in the opening poem, "Explaining Poetry on a First Date": "It's affliction not religion. / Not once have I thought I could be saved." Homan may never be saved from the affliction of writing nor find salvation in the act, but the dedication is there, and that’s enough.
Hard Reds by Brandi Homan