Congress of Strange People
Stephanie Lenox’s inventive debut collection Congress of Strange People entices readers into a “federation of freaks” with voice-driven poems that sing a collective ode to our common strangeness. Employing humor, mystery, and a bold yet generous gaze, this book keeps company with a snake handler and conspiracy theorist, record-holders from The Guinness Book, Miss Manners, human cannonballs, Nancy Drew, and other characters from a family of outcasts.
Publication date: October 1, 2012
Short List, Eric Hoffer Grand Prize
Finalist, Eric Hoffer Book Award
Finalist, First Horizon Book Award
Finalist, da Vinci Eye Award (design)
Stephanie Lenox lives in Salem, Oregon, with her husband and two daughters. She teaches poetry at Willamette University and edits the online literary journal Blood Orange Review. She is the author of The Heart That Lies Outside the Body, an award-winning poetry chapbook published by Slapering Hol Press. Her work has appeared widely in literary journals and has been honored with fellowships from the Arizona Commission on the Arts and the Oregon Arts Commission as well as numerous nominations for the Pushcart Prize.
For more information, please visit her website at www.stephanielenox.com.
Praise for Congress of Strange People
“To write so thoughtfully, humorously, zanily, and beautifully about dogs and cats, remorseful sisters and fumbling fathers, crazy record-holders and sexy snake charmers—every body and thing around us—is to live poetry. Lenox’s life is animated into a colorful, deeply felt spectrum of discovery that spans ‘a suspension bridge of disbelief’ that we willingly believe and dive from, risking that splitting heart of fear and joy. A smart, surprising, and audacious book.”
–Henry Hughes, author of Moist Meridian
“Stephanie Lenox’s work mines the Guinness World Records to take metaphor to a sublime extreme. Peopled with its ‘federation of freaks,’ her book is euphoric, generous, gracefully obsessive. There is intense personal depth in all of these poems, which are intimate, skillful, shimmering with complexity and awe.”
–Denise Duhamel, author of Ka-Ching!
“To enter this startling book, Congress of Strange People, is to take an uneasy journey through the maze of mirrors, ‘the other garden / our odd Eden, a tabula rasa of ludicrous acts’: each encounter is arresting, disarming, sometimes grotesque, but always curiously familiar. These poems shed dazzling light upon human behavior and anomaly in order to teach us to accept, indeed love, the freaks and monsters stirring within. What a graceful, poetic gesture: Look, Stephanie Lenox tells us, ‘that’s how beautiful things get made.’”
–Rigoberto González, author of Black Blossoms
“Stephanie Lenox’s poetry is so entertaining, captivating, inspiring, and delightful. Reading her work is like watching a brilliant trapeze artist. The daring young lady dazzles her audience with her skill, humor, and philosophy—flying through the air of imagination and creativity with the greatest of ease! I thoroughly enjoyed her performance and find it hard to come back down to earth!”
–Ashrita Furman, official record–holder for holding most current Guinness World Records
Excerpt from Congress of Strange People
Sunday afternoons Grandfather and I studied
The Guinness Book, dog-earing our favorites:
Mike, the headless chicken that lived 18 months
before dying in an Arizona hotel room;
the man whose arm was severed and reconnected
three separate times—Lazarus, Jesus, and the lame girl combined.
Your grandmother is in there, he nudged me. Keep looking.
I scanned the Medical Marvels, Extreme Bodies
for the woman he said could balance a piano on the tip
of her tongue. I stared at each smudged photo
until every woman began to look like family,
same eyes squinting against amazing burden.
Other times we huddled over the family tree,
its names branching out on butcher paper, me captivated
by the word genealogy as if it contained the power
to grant my three greatest wishes, while he plotted everything,
traced us back to Sing-Go-Wah, chief of a tribe
of pranksters. He pinched my skin until the blood rose.
See, you are red. He showed me how to cup my hand
over my mouth to make a war cry.
Once before leaving, he said he had a present for me
and dropped something weightless, invisible in my hand.
The world’s smallest guitar, he explained,
like the one we read about, size of a human blood cell,
completely functional. Now, play me a song.
My pulse picked up as I tried to think of what I could do.
Leaning over, with the tip of his fingernail he strummed once
the center of my palm, told me to press my ear against it.