Now Available: Tooth Box
Spuyten Duyvil, 2021
Tooth Box tells of a girlhood familiar to many—a girlhood of strange cruelties and the ever-present threat of violence. Irish writes with a mesmerizing attention to detail and a gift for the startling and uncanny. The girl in these sensuous poems wanders through a dark fairytale-esque world, alert to being taken, cut, punctured, and eaten: "to expect care from no one." It's one of the few poetry books I've read that accurately captures the tender, but brutal relationships between girls. Written with a fluid, dreamlike beauty, it is "a story built from the sticks and bleached and brittle bones of a truth...about girls who...become animals to save themselves.
— Jessica Cuello, author of Liar
In the title poem of this stunning collection, a tooth box is described as a “fragile capsule for caging time.” The same could be said—could it not?—of a poem, yet these poems and prose pieces are not fragile capsules—they are stones sharpened to points; they are stories that burst open like our spiral galaxy, growing larger and larger with each turn. Jenny Irish powerfully undoes the time called girlhood, drawing us into a world—our world—where girls can so easily disappear, dragged under by men, by alligator, by indifference, a world where girls brim with bewilderment and hunger, a world where even the softest of cosseting can’t keep us safe. Tooth Box is unflinching, unforgettable.
— Gayle Brandeis, author of Many Restless Concerns
What does Jenny Irish’s Tooth Box hold? A rabid girlhood of hybrid understanding, a quiet body yearning to express itself, and a wilderness of adults with mixed intentions. This book is stunning in its ability to move through and across form as a means to best express childhood discovery and trauma. Leaving readers wondering, where is my tooth box? What secret selves does my tooth box hold? Inventive, gut-wrenching, and full of strength, Irish’s work is in a category of its own.
— Natalie Scenters-Zapico, Author of Lima :: Limón
Yes. It is helpful when we think of words as the spoken, the unspoken, and the unspeakable. Jenny Irish’s Tooth Box is sure enough a book for every reader who’s felt lonesome and savored it, got a bruise and pressed it, found love a not entirely unwelcome fish bone lodged in the throat. A book of all that spoken and unspoken bittersweetness that makes a life one’s own. But it is especially a book for the unspeakable: the slap or scolding that any public outing’s fun and games made due, the burn from a bored boy’s careless cigarette though that boy was your own father, the tongue you held in one hand and the knife you held in the other. A book for those of us taught by older, harder girls, before it was too late, to expect care from no one. In a story built from the sticks and brittle bones of a dead, obvious, unspeakable truth, we children who weren’t so much held as hauled find an archive of the alternating hurt and wonder that kept us going, and keeps us still.
— Danielle Pafunda, author of Spite
Also Available: I Am Faithful
Black Lawrence Press, 2019
I am so in love with, so in awe of, so grateful for I Am Faithful. Jenny Irish writes girlhood like none other, splaying its great intensity, its loneliness, sufferings, longings, imaginings, and let-downs all. Cruelty and love coalesce into stories that feel so deeply lived in and inhabited that they keep living in one's blood like fairy tales. These essayistic, poetic stories are dreamy and gritty in their utter and heartbreaking realism. Finally, here they are: stories for girls like me who grew up between nothing and a heartbeat. I followed each and every dark tendril in this collection to its alluring and enchanting entanglement.
—Jenny Boully, author of Betwixt and Between
I Am Faithful is often beautiful, occasionally ugly, and true on every page. Jenny Irish is a writer of great skill and intelligence and most of all heart.
—Kyle Minor, author of Praying Drunk
In this collection of stories, Jenny Irish's sparse, raw prose gathers briny New England interiors, the eyes of old dogs, absent mothers and cold lovers. Each character is filled with the ache of absence, each story a Russian doll packed with glass. You'll want to cradle them to your chest, even knowing that, as you open them, the shards will cut you. A quiet, confident, and unassuming work.
—Jen Michalski, author of The Summer She Was Under Water
What is it to be poor? Discovering an ATM’s smallest withdrawal is more than the little left in your account? Counting out food stamps or working phone scams? Living in a bleak rental or a house made of ‘shiplap and tarpaper and corrugated tin’? Or is it something far more subterranean and corrosive, like the backwards kindness of a grandfather who guns down stray dogs? Or is it women who, with their bodies as their only asset, believe it ‘better to have a husband who beat you bloody than to be single’? And what of their daughters, of their perceived competition, such as a little girl shining ‘like a scrubbed apple’ before her body is found locked in ice? The question of privilege—of what it can buy, really—demands uncomfortable, often violent answers, and Jenny Irish’s unflinching collection, I Am Faithful, holds steady aim, writing the truth, bitter as it may be, that few understand but everyone needs to hear. Reader, witness: here, in burnished, exquisite prose, is a precise telling of class in America, a portrait of those who must compromise to survive, who scrape and save, and though acting out of the grim fury misery provides, they never, under whatever circumstance, deserve to be called ‘trash.
—Nickole Brown, author of Sister and Fanny Says
Often slyly funny and always devastatingly observant, Jenny Irish writes about the precarities of our moment with gorgeous prose and heartbreaking acuity.
—Laura Kipnis, author of Unwanted Advances
Lovely, brutal, and absolutely mesmerizing. Jenny Irish is a genius, and I Am Faithful is a revelation.
—Jennifer duBois, author of The Spectators
Jenny Irish's stories are unflinching glimpses into messy human lives. Finely crafted, the beautiful sentences build. There is ache, there is longing, and then, inevitably, the story bares its teeth.
—Callan Wink author of Dog Run Moon
The characters in I Am Faithful live in the ever-more-uncertain American margins, riding the line between transgression and transcendence, searching for something worthy of the terrifying gift of their faith. In sentences exactingly detailed, blackly comic, and genuinely poignant, Jenny Irish writes prose for the body: her stories stick to your ribs, jostle your heart, jag your muscles with their rhythm and thwack. I Am Faithful is a wondrous book.
—Murray Farish, author of Inappropriate Behavior
There’s poetry woven through these stories, a word not wasted, making Irish’s characters luminous and present. A person’s past is never a thing left behind but the battered motor dragging them ever forward. Jenny Irish writes without fear, divulging the truths that we humans so often keep from one another. Each story resonates through its final sentence.
—Bojan Louis, author of Currents
I devoured these spiky, knowing, unforgettable stories, which keenly dissect the dangers of girlhood, of womanhood, in America. Jenny Irish writes with vast insight, surprising jolts of humor, and true empathy for her characters and the broken world that made them.
—Belle Boggs, author of The Gulf and The Art of Waiting
In I Am Faithful, Jenny Irish dissects the American corpus with a surgeon’s precision, exposing the both the beauty and ugliness beneath the quotidian surface. These are powerful and unsettling stories, and their publication establishes Irish as a truth-teller of the highest order: lyrical, insightful, and admirably fearless.
—Adam Wilson, author of What’s Important Is Feeling
In her wonderful debut collection of stories, Jenny Irish brings us up close to a darkly personal cast of women as they struggle through pain, loss, and transformation. Irish fixes her gaze on the difficult terrain where beauty and meaning are often found among the wreckage. By focusing on the sites of their wounds, we are asked to consider all that her characters have lost and overcome as we are invited to change alongside them. In a world that seems to require at times our loss of hope, I Am Faithful is an intimate proclamation of faith.
—Jarret Middleton, author of Darkansas
Also Available: Common Ancestor
Black Lawrence Press, 2017
Jenny Irish’s scintillate debut collection of prose poems, Common Ancestor, is an awe-inspiring read. From the confident power of its narratives to the hurricane-force language of its vision, this poetry’s riveting. In two dramatic personae series of gorgeous, near-gothic detail, Irish looks at all the havoc humans wreak and does not blink. She scrutinizes violence with rare sangfroid, and though never moralizing, leaves us in little doubt of the moral center of her universe: “Metal is not guilty for what it does in man’s hands, absent of soul,” as one poem puts it. In lines laced with brilliant figure and sly internal rhyme, Irish’s poetry is charged by truth’s searing song.
— Cynthia Hogue, author of Revenance
Extreme intimacy paired simultaneously with objective distance—it is an odd, almost impossible, but compelling juxtaposition of feelings and revelations that we are gifted with in this book. The language is consistently profound even in its brevity, equal measures of brutally frightening and whisperingly tender. These are survivor monologues, emanating from somewhere between poetry and ruthlessness, the words not poems, exactly, but poetries, moments of their own devising, sudden, without history, without blueprint. Added to this layering, the rhyme we hear—so close to childhood—keeps us close to center, but we are no less scared. These are a litany of confidences, not examinations, not explained, but shared hard and felt forcefully. They are fierce even in their quietude and made fiercer when the words will not say what they say. Language here is a study of language, of how much the speaker wants to be to the speaker but in being the speaker is in constant and imminent danger. This is a powerful offering.
— Alberto Ríos, author of A Small Story About the Sky