House of McQueen

from the publisher: Selected by Vievee Francis for the Four Way Books Intro Prize, Valerie Wallace’s HOUSE OF MCQUEEN is a glittering debut by an assured new voice. Inhabiting the life and work of Alexander McQueen, Wallace builds a fantastical world using both original language and excerpts drawn from interviews, supermodels, Shakespeare, and more. At turns fierce and vulnerable, here is a collection that leaps from runway to fairytale to  street with wild, brilliant grace.

Publication Date: March 6, 2018 | 978-1-945588-11-2  | $15.95 | Paper, 66 pgs | 6 x 9

Pre-order from Four Way BooksIndiebound, from Amazon, or from my local bookstore, the Seminary Co-Op.

Read poems from the book here.

Four of the poems from this manuscript have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

The Poem “Bespoke” has been nominated by the editors of Tupelo Quarterly for Best of the Net.

Previous versions of the manuscript were finalists or semifinalists for the following: The Colorado Prize, Able Muse Press Prize, Crab Orchard Review First Books Prize, Subito Press Contest, New Measure Poetry Prize,  and the Pollack/Bittingham Prizes.


Advance Praise

“In HOUSE OF MCQUEEN, Valerie Wallace has found beauty, pulled back the cover, /and means to tempt us. Indeed we immediately want to read more of these gorgeously cut lines, incisive, and insightful.  Here skirts laugh while needles are needled by longing. Whimsical and unabashed as in “Haute Couture”: gift the heart-shaped apricot at my/ end for your bunspark…your stalk of young maple… the poems are also sorrowful by turns as in the poem “McQueen Tartan” we wear truth in/a locket how quickly we could lose us. HOUSE OF MCQUEEN titillates, and discomfits, informs and provokes. Wallace seeks not to re-envision the incomparable designer Alexander McQueen but to act as our deft dresser giving us a view from backstage. This book is seamless in that we see the craft but only as it forwards our understanding of McQueen. Sonnets written with text taken from models’ conversations and interviews give it the air of court gossip; centos of secrets draw us into McQueen’s life, as inviting and complicated as the labyrinth of Versailles. Wallace’s broadly imaginative use of language moves from airy and silken to richly textured, dense as damask. Read aloud it fills the mouth, it nourish[es] the urges we’re born with as noted in “From Bjork’s words.” Whatever seems familiar at first glance quickly folds into unfamiliar, evocative gestures. With cliché rent, nothing is expected, so nothing can bore. The tension begins high and keeps going in its intensity. Here the profane/ & beauty are not in opposition – mediocrity is the world’s welter. Wallace refuses a conventional take and by doing so (to paraphrase) puts a middle finger in the thimble, sucks the thread and sews a tale we want to read but wish we could wear.”

~Vievee Francis, judge’s citation


“Wallace conducts a literary seance in her transcendent debut, serving as a scholar of and medium for the late iconic fashion designer Alexander McQueen (1969–2010). Devising her poems using an extensive array of sources, Wallace manages to encapsulate the “monstrous and magical” visions that defined McQueen’s oeuvre. Her biographical thesis, so to speak, can be seen in lines written from the designer’s perspective: “People say I do it for the shock value/ I just like exploring the sinister side of life.” Wallace’s expert distillation of McQueen’s life and words offers valuable insight on his whimsical and dark-minded vision. Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of Wallace’s lyrical tapestry is the way in which she cultivates various voices and narratives; by quoting McQueen’s friends and disciples, including such notable figures as Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss, readers hear through them the fashion industry legend’s call to “Perform my clothes like you’re devastated.” There are also witty moments, as when Wallace imagines McQueen’s scissors whispering in his ear, “It’s only cloth.” Wallace’s language locates a maelstrom of emotional and spiritual energy at the core of McQueen’s evocative designs. Sensual, devastating, and lithe as silk, Wallace’s work is a fitting tribute to McQueen’s dynamic yet tragic life.”

~ Publishers Weekly, starred review


“Wallace’s fearless yet humble reverence gives way to virtuosity in House of McQueen, ennobling the iconic designer and his creations through an inventive and arresting combination of Rococo excesses (“He sips, & ships. Handel slows it to a drawing room vibrato / In plain sight of stays & crushed blossoms”); blunt concision (“aluminum coiled corset  |  Ndebe    |    Cossak     |worn like a shield”); and emaciating delirium (“I feel / deep / anarchy / the calm / part / getting into it / captures / dying before / your heart / misses / a / beat /”). These poems function like tourniquets but this collection is anything but bloodless. Like its tortured subject, it confesses,  “Armorless, I am threaded with blades.””

~ Kevin Simmonds, author of BEND TO IT and MAD FOR MEAT 


“How does a writer begin to capture the wild glory and talent of someone like Lee Alexander McQueen, the high-octane designer of the House of Givenchy and then of his own unmistakable label? One only has to look to Valerie Wallace’s debut collection House of McQueen for an answer. Wallace begins with an in-depth, intuitive knowledge of the designer’s life gleaned from interviews, studies of his ground-breaking collections, visits to exhibitions of his visionary work, and by collecting fragments of words spoken by the man himself as well as some of the famous people he dressed. But it is more than that. The mastery of Wallace’s own poetic art is what rips into the heart of a man who defied all odds by moving from a working class boyhood to the center of 21st century haute couture and the brutality of that game. Wallace captures the genius of McQueen not to memorialize his tragically short life (although she does) or to write a biography or history of the designer, but rather to transform art—his art into a maelstrom of her own poetic brilliance. In the process, we find a book that captures the flair of Valerie herself—as poet, soothsayer, designer, and seeker of the strange and wonderful manifestations of what art can be. This is a book inspired by McQueen, but one that rises into its own thing of beauty and myth.”

Andrea Witzke Slot, author of TO FIND A NEW BEAUTY


“I cut / a path to / the sacred” and “I am | you are / the voyeur | the mirror.” So declares Alexander McQueen amid these poems of a richly sounded sensorium: of the texture of cloth, the silhouette of a waist, the smell of orange peels, the hook of a fang. If McQueen’s work resulted from the designer thinking with his bare hands, Valerie Wallace’s poems in this arresting collection result from the poet speaking with all five of her senses fully engaged. House of McQueen is a remarkable book.”

~ Peter O’Leary, author of THICK AND DAZZLING DARKNESS, THE SAMPO, and others


“The poems in House of McQueen fully inhabit the life and grandiloquent imagination, the fragility and self-destructive appetites, in fact the entire exuberant swirling metier of the iconoclastic, gay, working-class, British couturier for whom the book is named.  Using multiple poetic forms (from sonnets to the free-floating spatial experiments), and a dizzying array of sources (poems, interviews, commentaries, reviews, headlines, biographies, gossip, dress names, et al), Valerie Wallace composes a documentary garment as intricate, as astonishing, and as provocative as the man and his work.

“One moment she trims a negligible detail into a shimmering lyrical line: “When only gored grey lace covers the body.” In another, while sketching  McQueen’s “Oyster Dress”, Wallace’s  luminous language enacts the flow and feel, the loft and lilt, tat and fetter, the lustrous illusion of fabric (of fashion) itself: “Pulse here, here, feel, skirr / Untether your atonement, here is hushling. / From silurean bed to small wings inside / Maiden Hair, silvery Hart’s Tongue sprung.”

“Whether incantation or interior monologue, evisceration or transubstantiation, confession or backstage chatter, Wallace’s book of poems tear open the rapturous garb of creative genius, even as it remakes those beautiful Mulberry silks, moirés, Shantungs, and cashmeres into a vibrant new garment of words with which we readers will long want to drape around our ears, our tongues, and our hearts.”

~ Ralph Hamilton, author of TEACHING A MAN TO UNSTICK HIS TAIL


Press Release

Photos and book trailer