Review: Swollening

Jason Purcell, 112 pgs, Arsenal Pulp,, $18.95

I felt like I was drowning in the words and memories of another, yet so much like my own.

Jason Purcell’s collection of poetry, Swollening, is visceral in a way very few artists can convey. The poems are a journey through Purcell’s experiences from childhood to the present. They combine queerness and chronic illness to create a purposeful and reflective piece of art.

Descriptions of intense physicality force readers to feel Purcell’s words with their own body. Here the body is no longer familiar, but a foreign vessel that imprisons rather than contains. Lines like, “You can pull your own truth from yourself, but what to do with all the extra blood?” in “Cavity” exemplifies how Purcell encapsulates their sensations in a vivid manner with just a few words, packed with more emotion than a novel with triple the pages. They convey the suffocation of dysphoria through emotion and physical feeling, the opposite of cold academic prose, yet Purcell’s musical way of writing contains more information than any research journal on the subject.

Purcell creates a parallel between the sickness of the body, through illness and pain, and the sickness of the mind, caused by the damage of dysphoria and internalized homophobia. The vulnerability in Swollening is best described as teeth being pulled, leaving you “jaw detached and tooth emptied.”

Not every poem has a clear meaning, allowing for interpretation through the bodily sensations Purcell describes on an intimate level that becomes a malleable experience for each reader. Swollening is a raw and inspiring book. I would recommend it to anyone interested in poetry.