Review of Down Spooky by Publishers Weekly

Vigorous, winningly smart and consistently hip, Compton's debut follows a horde of quick-witted alter egos through a decidedly American, youth-oriented landscape whose sites include high schools, zoos, the football fields of Texas, the kudzu-damaged forests of the rural South, the skyscrapers of post-9/11 Manhattan and the rock and roll lounges of innermost Brooklyn. Compton, who just ended a long stint as associate [publisher] at Soft Skull Press, portrays the pleasures and fears of her generation with "that hookymaking/ convincibility of mine," deploying a quick-change lingo of "Slashy Speakers, Nervy Endings" in poems that veer in and out of narrative sense: she shows off a language equal parts angst and speed, with a soft spot for "the longing of the never-ringing telephones" and repeated returns to runaway teens. Compton shows a particular talent for love poems á la C.D. Wright and D.A. Powell: "Your mouth is its own environment a canyon/ with trees and snow," an augmented sonnet proclaims; "lips that have smiled are as limitless as leaves." If some work toward the end of the collection seems too short for its own good, other poems may rocket into anthologies. The whole, meanwhile, reveals great energy and a promise beyond its parts. (Dec.)


Review of Down Spooky by Ray McDaniel
Shaman Drum 05/06 Catalog

Compton finds the world infinitely and wonderfully weird—every poem in this collection bubbles and seethes with a sense of joyful play and goofy linguistic oneupmanship. But Down Spooky is more than a thrill: the world in which Compton plays is one rarely described in contemporary poetry, hardscrabble and sassy, and her fancies and focus do that world considerable justice.


Review of Down Spooky by Joshua Corey
CutBank 65, Spring 2006

If melancholy is the index of authenticity in American poetry, then Shanna Compton’s Down Spooky is a very inauthentic book indeed—or as Compton writes in “My Huge Napoleon,” “Violators of these depth prescriptions / may be unsubscribed. But does it matter? / He’ll mature into silliness.” She is that rare creature, an exuberant minimalist: though few of her poems are longer than a page, they are compressed and crammed with wordplay and wit. The first line of her bio says it all, really: “Born and raised in Texas, Shanna Compton has lived in Brooklyn, New York since 1995.” She combines West and East, bringing an acute sense of place (places, rather: the Duane Reade and the BQE; St. John Parish in Louisiana and a high school band parade in Texas) reminiscent of C.D. Wright. But like Wright (or Caroline Knox, who contributes a blurb to the back cover), Compton’s truest allegiance is to words and their uncanny ability to manufacture a community of meanings out of the barest possible contexts. The speed of her associations produces a kind of delirious whiplash in the reader, as in the case of “Post-Texas Expressive Heat,” quoted here in full:

Your mother put a
fan in the oven,
he said, to cool
it down. That’s right
the door is open
and on it sits
a little fan, blowing.
I am a little
fan, she says, an
ardent fan, a big
fan of yours. Whew.

That clever, cartoony “Whew” conceals itself behind many of Compton’s poems like the quick sly grin of the cat who got the cream. It often seems apt to compare these poems to cartoons and comics: three- or four-panel affairs offering the immediate pleasures of strong lines and good jokes, but rewarding closer examination with the fine detail of their crosshatching and the exquisite syntax ordering the panels. The latter quality is on display in “The Woman from the Public,” which alternates a seemingly straightforward confessional narrative in lines of roman type with incantatory italicized lines, the whole adding up into a decisive sketch of the risks run by a woman claiming her right to compose “the public.” Nervy and syncopated, Down Spooky proves that you don’t have to prove your seriousness to create authentic experience in language. Or as “My Huge Napoleon” concludes, asking of its titular character, “Why can’t he just admit / pleasure is inevitable?”


Review of Down Spooky by American Poet: The Journal of the Academy of American Poets
Spring 2006

"Why can't he just admit / pleasure is inevitable?" Shanna Compton asks her her debut collection from newcomer Winnow Press. The question becomes progressively more rhetorical as one moves through this beautifully written and well-designed book. Compton's playfulness is lively, aphoristic, and strange. The volume's titles alone are worth the cover price: "We the Blind Need Pushing," "Thank Y'all for Appreciating My Animals," "Elegy for a Fictional Strongman," and "Hooray for the Differently Sane," to name a few. The poems live up to their titles too. Take these lines from "Those Days of Pomp & Vigor," an homage to high school:

I'll see your panther
and raise you wildcat,
so how you like that?
Skateboard the pristine paths
of the swank stripmall before
Grand Opening.

Grand indeed.

Down Spooky is an impressive, imaginative debut of linguistic fireworks with the distorted familiarity of a yearbook photo.