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Girls & Men, Shannon Quinn’s debut poetry collection, explores desire and memory, examining the damaged lives of characters whose street smarts are their only defense against self-destruction and loss of hope. Quinn’s poems delve into a world of “inner city mortifications” as she contemplates lost innocence and how the longing to be great rather than merely good can drive people to pursue a life along society’s margins. From adolescent girls getting a taste of adulthood around a bonfire in “Walking Dead” to the sex workers who hold their own on the dark streets of Quinn’s hazy, almost mythical universe, readers are transported through the “peculiar urban sprawl of being a girl” and presented with a celebratory defiance of the expectations projected onto women.
Girls & Menis a collection of dark yet delicate poems, celebrating the myth and magic associated with female sexuality and agency. Themes of lost innocence, damaged lives, addiction, and destitution intermingle with a celebration of life outside the margins, as Quinn weaves beautiful narratives out of the ugly bits of life. Images of childlike purity combine with tragedy as the collection follows a motley gang that includes “the morphined, the moon-shined,/the induced amnesiacs and the bicycle thieves” as they stage a revolution against polite society and “pulverize the idea of being good instead of great.”
Stark natural imagery combines with Quinn’s magic-infused metaphors as she describes liquid skies filled with stars and the simultaneously soothing and oppressive force of water as it alternates between the serene waves of a fresh hit and the sound-muffling burden placed on revolutionaries “chained to the ocean floor”. Bears, dogs, elephants, and other strange beasts including carnivorous sheep take shadowy shape throughout the collection as Quinn delves into our animal urges and confronts society’s tendency to enforce order but offer no guidance. “Where were our birders when we needed them?” she asks in “Animal Secrets”, but this probing discontent reveals fewer answers than questions.
Despite being a collection exploring wounds and sorrows,Girls & Men is also fundamentally about redemption as Quinn explores the strength it takes to reclaim a shattered life. Quinn dares herself to transform grief into something beautiful, and the result