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ISBN: 978-1-62557-068-0
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Categories Poetry


Publication Date: March 2024


Linguistically acrobatic, FishWife interrogates dictionary definitions and the messy function of memory, reclaiming and redefining language to discover the self. This collection explores where and how embodiments of wifehood and identity overlap and entwine, alchemizing intuition into language and offering poetry as a mode of illumination. Traveling from sea to sky to earth, the speaker crosses literal and figurative borders of state lines and memory, challenging lexicography in a strange, liminal space of ghosts and grief. FishWife is a siren, a worker, a witch, a spinster, and a healer, grappling with identity, wifehood, marriage, and sometimes even fish.


Alysse McCanna’s FishWife explores the multivalent definitions and concepts of “wife,” with all the historical and epistemological weight these imply. But while this interesting and worthy conceit is at the heart of her book, happily, McCanna’s intellectual considerations never undermine the poems’ visceral, emotional power, or the notable verve and swing of the book’s music and language play. Lively, intelligent, surprising, deeply felt, it’s a terrific book.

—Erin Belieu

“I want you to want/ only me.” Desire swarms in Alysse Kathleen McCanna’s FishWife. From the aftermath of divorce, to bodily encounters of “feverish tenderness,” to PTSD, to lovers drifting in and out of voice’s orbit, to the sacraments of pleasure seeping, to the “many seasons of moth,” to longing so thick the voice confesses, “I wanted/ to be a bruise/ blossoming/ like a raw/ new tattoo:/ your name/ bleeding on/ my ass,” McCanna’s poems dwell in the metaphysical and cognitive spaces of relationships occupied by the various prisms of grief and want. FishWife interrogates labels, with lines and poems that cut straight to the gut. In iterations such as, “wishwife, [       ] wife, nextwife, secondwife, tomorrowwife, never-quite-the-right-wife, kinda-whatever-afterwife, secondhand-blue, borrowed-wife, Never-wife,” FishWife explores the intricacies of brief, severing, and traumatic relationships through societal definitions—their expectations, inabilities to match emotions, etymologies, origins, and impacts on loving, craving, surviving, and selfhood. These poems are gritty and hopeful, body-full and desert-strewn, lustful and spell casting—an unmapping of the self and a luring of the voice into visibility—to be visible to the self, most of all.

—Felicia Zamora

This dazzling debut by Alysse Kathleen McCanna begins with a signal: The wife is a disguise. And how FishWife goes! Across heartbreaks, stores of memory, and the terrains of pleasure, wife becomes as much lighthouse as late wife, as much siren as the coifed chorus “waiting for men to come home from wars.” McCanna transforms a word from filament to sinew, then dissipates a sonnet crown like a magician. FishWife is sensational.

—Janine Joseph

About the Author

© Mukund Gopalakrishnan

Alysse Kathleen McCanna

Alysse Kathleen McCanna’s poetry has appeared in or is forthcoming from North American Review, The Rumpus, Grist, Poet Lore, Pembroke, Harpur Palate, and other journals. Her poetry has been featured on poets.org and Verse Daily, and her reviews have appeared in American Book Review and The Operating System. FishWife, forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press, is her first full-length collection. FishWife was a finalist for the 2022 Barrow Street Book Prize, a semi-finalist for the 2021 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry and the 2021 and 2022 Perugia Press Prizes, and made it to the top 10 in the 2022 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize. Alysse’s chapbook Pentimento was selected by Safiya Sinclair and published by Gold Line Press in 2019. Her work has been supported by fellowships and residencies from Vermont Studio Center, New York State Summer Writers Institute, and Sundress Academy for the Arts. She holds a PhD in English from Oklahoma State University, an MFA from Bennington College, and serves as Associate Editor of Pilgrimage Magazine. She is an Associate Professor of English at Colorado Mountain College.

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