by Caroline Rayner
Sad Spell Press / poetry / 33 pages
The end of June marked the highly anticipated release of Caroline Rayner’s debut chapbook of poetry, Calorie World, out now from Sad Spell Press, the publishing arm of Witch Craft Magazine. Rayner, who is a Virginia-bred poet, essayist, and music writer currently pursuing her MFA in poetry at UMass Amherst, is someone I’ve closely followed ever since her poem, “loveless,” appeared in the KINETIC issue of Shabby Doll House last summer. In the last year, we’ve published her at Peach, we read together a handful of times during our recent tour, and she has new work forthcoming in our Yearbook that is due out later this summer. In short, she’s a writer I can’t quit recommending.
“loveless,” which is printed in the second half of Calorie World, was my introduction to Rayner’s gift for throwing dizzying sensory detail—in just the first stanza, she writes of velvet, maple syrup, and free bleeding—against darker and more intense themes, creating a psychedelic and electrifying effect. She addresses this contrast later in the poem when she writes, “no matter how / much nectar i smear under my arms i still smell like desert / clit & smoke.” The poems in this collection capture the dreamy feeling of putting an Instagram filter on self-destruction, of adding froth and fruit zest to heartache, of surrounding solitude with healing crystals.
Calorie World is not a book of healing, though—it is one that is interested in pain. The speaker of the poems—at times looking pain full in the face, at others, side-eyeing it—volleys back and forth between restriction and indulgence and between mania and cool indifference. In “smoke show,” Rayner writes, “can anyone even afford / spiritual retreat” and “already tried ripping myself open with / amethyst.” Her tone is like a glass of champagne spilling in droplets as she walks to the smoker’s patio, her form like the stickiness that dries on her hands. Poems that exfoliate and moisturize, often within the same line.
In the opening poem, “bad bitches only,” Rayner writes, “my past selves / cluster inside like the moon / talking shit,” and “at night i cup my hands / full of orange juice / to protect / against curses / and haters.” Calorie World is an offering at the altar of personal myth, full of ritual and obsession, and at the heart of each poem is a hex. It is not for this reason only that Sad Spell Press feels like the perfect match for Rayner’s work; Catch Business, the press’s chapbook coordinator who is known for her inventive binding techniques, hand-dyed each individual cover of Calorie World with wine, a fitting jacket for the luxurious and glowing messiness within. “i just embellish whatever the earth teaches me,” Rayner writes, “my myth goes like this.”
“Peach Picks” is a column of literary news and recommendations written by the editors of Peach Mag, an online literary magazine based in Buffalo. For inquiries, contact the editors at firstname.lastname@example.org.