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ISBN: 978-1732039957
Reviews & Media Review in THE JOURNAL

Inside Ball Lightning

Publication Date: March 2020


Inside Ball Lightning follows the growing distance between two siblings over the course of several years around the time of their grandmother’s death. It traces a childhood full of competitive chess, Gameboys, ghosts, ESP, and ball lightning. Here, parents’ childhoods merge with the poet’s in a book that looks back across generations, and looks forward into the continuing implications of the family’s immigrant experience. Through its masterful craft and stunning attention to detail, Inside Ball Lightning attempts to reconcile terror and love, nostalgia and pain.

Inside Ball Lightning was originally published by Southeast Missouri State University Press.


In Rainie Oet’s Inside Ball Lightning, the displacements of migration and loss are caught within in the rippling lens of childhood. Here, memory’s prose is shot through with the lyricism of a dream-state, pulsing with strange luminosities—glow watches, ghost cams, Geocities sites, a flash of lightning caught in a microwave. This is an ambitious debut, wrought with care and an eye for the surreal in the everyday.
—Franny Choi, author of Soft Science

Inside Ball Lightning is Rainie Oet’s paean to childhood. In the depiction of the dynamics of a Russian immigrant family, focused on the sibling relationship between the speaker and their brother Mark, the nature of what constitutes love is examined in microscopic detail . . . Inside Ball Lightning is at times a picaresque and at other times a tender tale of growing up, as seen through the discerning lens of Oet’s poetic vision.
—Christopher Kennedy, author of Clues from the Animal Kingdom

Between grief and beauty exists a dwelling space. What is it? Rainie Oet see it very clearly in these lines haunted by elegy, yet uplifted by the lyric. Oet says: ‘every time Mark dies it leaves a hole in a wall.’ What is to be seen in such spaces? Rainie Oet sees and names our longing for transformation. The gone beloved is named directly, is seen everywhere up close: ‘You are fog / on the hand mirror, wind / through the highway.’ This is, perhaps, the fate of the elegist, to mourn and to see with clarity: ‘You are the moth inside the lightbulb, fluttering.’ This is beautiful work.
—Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic

To enter the Inside of Inside Ball Lightning is to listen to a startling voice—or is it to be startled by a listening voice? A voice like a perpetual aside in a play written by dusk and the sensation of salt granules on the tongue. This is a voice that declares, ‘I’m like a cloud with a hole for a mother.’ And asks, ‘What if your clothes were connected to your body by millions of little worms?’ These poems are the feeling of a question left dangling in the air. Time here is particular and peculiar, infused with pop culture, with immigrant forms of (not-quite) knowing. One poem’s Digimon epigraph perhaps best encapsulates the collection: ‘One of the strange monsters had a strange light hit them in a strange way, which changed them into another strange monster.’ What strange and welcome company, this book.
—Chen Chen, author of When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities

About the Author

Rainie Oet

Rainie Oet is a trans woman who writes fiction and poetry for adults and young readers. She is the author of Robin’s Worlds (Astra), Monster Seek (Astra), and Glitch Girl! (Kokila). She received her MFA in Poetry from Syracuse University, where she was awarded the Shirley Jackson Prize in Fiction. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her cat, Skipper.

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