Salamandrine: 8 Gothics


salamandrine-cover-BIGSalamandrine: 8 Gothics
Joyelle McSweeney

ISBN: 9780982541692
Fiction / Parenting / Occult
5″x7″, 188 pp., trade paperback | May 2013

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“One would not make love to a Salamandrine during a sandstorm,” wrote Aleister Crowley, anticipating by some sixty years the note of caution that Tarpaulin Sky must attach to the Black Book whose image now burns before you: Dear Reader, banish all received notions of narrative, of language itself. Masquerading as a collection of short stories, Salamandrine is a channeled text, moonchild, unholy offspring of poetry and Loser Occult. Refracting the dread and isolation of contemporary life through a series of formal/generic lenses, producing a distorted, attenuated, spasmatic experience of time, as accompanies motherhood, Salamandrine renders impossible any thinking in terms of conventional temporalities or even causalities, let alone their narrative effects. Salamandrine is the high magick of art so low it crawls. Like a toddler at a poetry reading. With a taste for achilles heels. Hell-bent on bringing literature itself to its knees.

The stream of consciousness of an unhinged mother…. McSweeney’s breakneck prose harnesses the throbbing pulse of language itself.

Publishers Weekly

Biological, morbid, fanatic, surreal, McSweeney’s impulses are to go to the rhetoric of the maternity mythos by evoking the spooky, sinuous syntaxes of the gothic and the cleverly constructed political allegory. Salamandrine can be earnest and apocalyptic, playful and arch, but at its core is the proposition that writing the mother-body is a viscid cage match with language and politics in a declining age…. [T]his collection is the sexy teleological apocrypha of motherhood literature, a siren song for those mothers “with no soul to photograph.”

—Carmen Giménez Smith, The Brooklyn Rail

This is very much a book about motherhood, and writes against capitalism’s attempt to mechanize motherhood, to turn her labor into labor, a factory-womb producing workers-of-the-state. The mothers in Salamandrine are gangrenous, abhuman creatures: a vampire, a cannibalistic zombie who eats her own brain and entrails and cradles her rat, a mother who vomits gold cloth and suspects her daughter of having an affair with her lover. Pregnancy explodes into an impossible pageantry—a mother dresses up her daughter in a dusk costume or as deodorized death, a mother who wears a hat adorned with dead birds and dresses her daughter in coffin clothes with high-button boots….

McSweeney writes like a synesthete sculpting sound, her sentences cross-wiring and corrupting our senses. It’s as if McSweeney wrote these sinful and sinewy stories with the knife of mad scientist, slicing and resuturing syntax, as prose unexpectedly breaking into verse. This is a book full of choral keenings, the echo in your ultrasound, a “lunguage.” These words ring and richochet like tinnitus in your ears.

—Tasha Matsumoto, Quarterly West

If you would recover the empire over the Salamanders, purify and exalt the Natural Fire that is within you.

—Abbé de Villars

He who shrinks from the flames will never command Salamanders.

—Arthur Edward Waite

excerpts from Salamandrine

Every night the sun shows its negative side, it rolls over from China and sprays us with its lead gun and our heads just melt. I say, no, its not China, baby, its America, and then we both take a belt. We belt up our mouths. We mute it for different seasons.

Then we leg it over to the corner to chew on cords. We go over.

We go over like a lead balloon. Like a baleen in the punched-out mouth of a whale. Like one ounce of plastic in a healthy albatrosss gut, two ounces equals a dead albatross. Which is why

Im under the pinchcrib looking for a sock.

Im under the sock-muck looking for a mug. Im looking for a warm-up and a pick-me and a -tune. To pick the lock of a sleeping baby wearing its millstone of candy around its neck. Noone can slip nothing past me and my baby.

Or pull one over on us.

Or push us over.

Not noone can.


In which my kid proves a hero of the injection. Next stop a wrestly Mercury-mask, stops up the ears, stops up the nose, swims in the blood, sews painful wings onto those baby ankles, but theyll thank you for it. My kids got her own pod of roll-up dolphins in her spangly blood, swimming and sieving in her alien scenes.

After the check-up, I see the doctor in the parking lot. Can she recognize my kid without her chart? I want desperately for my kids face to be recognizable; I wouldnt recognize it myself if it werent tied on. I try to draw the doctors attention to us. I ring the stroller ‘round my car. My kids dingle tires sink deeper into the tar.


In which the tar is mud. Girasol tamales, Parish of St. Bavo, Women, Infant and Childrens clinics all stipple-cell all sinking into the mud. No such lug today. Burning bright. Which makes the tar for melting. Which makes a Melchior. Alchemists bauble or philosophers stone stowed on the shelf amid the unused Pampers and summer togs. Salamandrine, my kid

is burning in the back seat. Shit.


Joyelle-McSweeney-photoabout the author

Joyelle McSweeney is the author of two titles with Tarpaulin Sky Press: Nylund, the Sarcographer (2007), and Salamandrine: 8 Gothics. She is also author of four titles from Fence Books: Percussion Grenade, Flet, The Red Bird, and The Commandrine and Other Poems.

Read more at our author page for Joyelle McSweeney.