A review of
The Pink Institution
by Selah Saterstrom
There is a land simultaneously outside and within the South’s most epochal places and symbols: Atlanta and its dull sprawl, Mobile’s tony white sands, Graceland’s rock-and-roll shrine, and New Orleans’s weekly excuses to party. What sometimes seems like a projection flickering on the southeast part of the nation has another side not so brochure-ready. Grubby, wild-eyed children play on tires. Yards are speckled with a rusted symphony’s worth of shapes.
Selah Saterstrom evokes this land and life in The Pink Institution, letting gusts of fresh, tart air blow into the old halls of Southern Gothic. Rustic and resourceful, The Pink Institution uses a different structure for each of its five sections. The first is fractured by excerpts from found texts; the second organized in object blocks; “Psalter: (Birth Interim),” the third and only section to be titled, is a small group of prose poems centered around a prayer; the fourth features prose passages occasionally mediated by semi-colons; while the fifth fittingly unravels into “Scene” and “Gesticulations.” This structural costume-changing is pursued with just the right combination of play, gravity, and restraint. Photographs of a little girl’s poofy-dressed back and two blurry figures by a house, unattributed quotes like “The day the war began is known as Ruination Day”—all compellingly test this rotted tableau of four generations of Mississippi women.
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