Book Cover

Lethal Theater

Susannah Nevison

78 pp. 6 x 9
Pub Date: January, 2019

Subjects: Poetry

Series: The Journal Charles B. Wheeler Poetry Prize

Imprint: Mad Creek

order Paperback $16.95 $13.56 plus US free shipping ISBN: 978-0-8142-5516-2
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Read “The Performative Structure: A Conversation with Susannah Nevison” in Adroit Journal

“Thoroughly researched, the collection is open-hearted and descriptively taut, describing just what happens when the body and soul are too far eroded.” —Rob McLennan

“Susannah Nevison’s Lethal Theater is a testament to the moral imagination. Many times, the speakers of these poems seem perched at the edge of the kind of all-consuming empathetic seeing that defeats witness, but they never fall over. And what they, and Nevison, see most clearly is that we are to be known and measured by the ways we treat those over whom we have power, and yet most often we do not want to know the power we have over others, nor what is done to others in our name. Lethal Theater speaks our name.” —Shane McCrae

“Susannah Nevison’s searing second collection, Lethal Theater, is not about how we die but how we kill, protected by procedure, faith in duty, cruel appetite, and the State. Nevison steadfastly rejects dulled indifference; instead, her poems—lyric, found, urgent—pulse with sound anger, grief, and complicity’s persistent ache.” —Douglas Kearney

“Susannah Nevison’s Lethal Theater is a powerful, nuanced accounting of the physical and spiritual price violence exacts on its victims and perpetrators. This stunning lyric meditation on imprisonment relentlessly pushes the limits of mercy in asking us to bear witness to the ways in which we inflict pain on others in places where ‘the dark touches / everything, spreading its wound.’” —Erika Meitner

In her new poetry collection, Lethal Theater, Susannah Nevison reckons with the rituals of violence that underpin the American prison system, both domestically and abroad. Exploring the multiple roles of medicine in incarceration, Nevison’s poems expose the psychological and physical pain felt by the prison system’s inhabitants. Nevison asks readers to consider the act and complications of looking—at the spectacle of punishment, isolation, and interrogation, as mapped onto incarcerated bodies—by those who participate in and enforce dangerous prison practices, those who benefit from the exploitation of incarcerated bodies, and those who bear witness to suffering. Unfolding in three sections, Nevison’s poems fluidly move among themes of isolation and violence in prisons during periods of war, the history of medical experimentation on domestic prisoners, and the intersection between anesthesia used in hospital settings and anesthesia used in cases of lethal injection. Lethal Theater is an attempt to articulate and make visible a grotesq<>ue and overlooked part of American pain.

Author Photo

Susannah Nevison is the author of the poetry collection Teratology. Her work has been published in The New York Times,Crazyhorse and Tin House.


Cell Watch: Strip Cell
Fitness Test
Tapetum Lucidum
[The bars lash light across his body, and he]
[Like a widening pupil, the dark touches]
[He becomes a stripped and weathered cross]
[The wall between your charge and you is thin]
[He imagines they’re calling him home]
[The winter field has forgotten what it knows]
[He begins to see the dark lift, sees you]
American Icon
All the Games We Know
Playing Possum
Where We Are

At Holmesburg Prison
At East Mississippi Correctional
Prisoner’s Cinema with Saints Catherine and Lucy
Prisoner’s Cinema with News from Home
At Oregon State Penitentiary
Prayer for Mercy
At Folsom Women’s Facility
At Pitchess Detention Center
Confinement Prayer

Lethal Theater


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