Vital, joyful, erotic, disgusting, sharp, witty, wounding, frightening, or praising whatever Francine J. Harris’ play dead is trying to do, it certainly is memorable. The collection is divided into three sections, “startle,” “blink,” and “freeze,” and Harris uses every tool in the box. Words streak across the page. There are tight formal stanzas and unpunctuated prose poems. There are suicide notes and love letters. There are classic references and putrid inner fantasies. As the collection progresses, the poems unravel in both style and meaning, tight intelligible stanzas scatter into free-form chaos just like life. play dead pulls no punches. Images jack-hammer and stick in your head all day like that pop song on the morning radio. Underlying ideas circle and return and cannot be shaken from the mind.

 “The minute you say want, the light which was red
is most certainly now, a womb—a thing no one wants to
stare into, most certainly a thistle, where nothing is safe.
any corner could be a cement truck. or a gun.”

Francine J. Harris, “Startle”

Francine J. Harris’ second poetry collection, play dead is not for the faint of heart, not for those afraid to question the status quo. The writing is brave and strong and much needed to counter-balance the fluff that passes for entertainment. Perhaps the three lines of “Gravity Furnace” sums up Harris’ scope:

She wants to set the house on fire,
gas in both hands, gas on the wall.
It’d be like the sea torched from its floor.”

Francine J. Harris, “Startle”