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

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

Read poems from the book here.

Check the book trailer here.

The Chicago Review of Books named HOUSE OF MCQUEEN one of the 10 Best Poetry Books of 2018.

Library Journal named HOUSE OF MCQUEEN a “Top Spring Poetry Selection.”

HOUSE OF MCQUEEN was shortlisted for the 2018 Chicago Review of Books Award for Poetry.

Four of the poems from this manuscript were been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the poem “Bespoke” was 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.

Reviews & 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

“. . . .in her scintillating and indelible debut collection, “House of McQueen,” Chicago author Valerie Wallace uses poetry to explore and excavate the wild and compelling triumphs and contradictions inherent in the designer’s life and work. Although she creates her sumptuous portrait with obvious admiration, Wallace resists being blindly worshipful, refusing to make either a sanitized angel or a romanticized devil out of this singularly complicated and tumultuous individual.”

~ Excerpt from “Chicago poet reinterprets life and legacy of Alexander McQueen” by Kathleen Rooney, Chicago Tribune

“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

“But the emphasis on making in these poems is firmly anchored to survival: McQueen’s very life depended on getting outside of his own mind to become “methodical as nature.” We don’t typically think of fashion as “natural,” but this is a designer for whom the skeleton was a starting point.. . . The genius of this collection is the collaboration between poet and designer, and Wallace’s use of poetic technique—even something as seemingly insignificant as vowel sounds—to show how wearing orchards or the bloom of a damask pattern makes life take shape. “

~ Excerpt from “On House of McQueen by Valerie Wallace” by Beth McDermott in The Kenyon Review

“The very spirit of high fashion is implied throughout the conceptual and structural narratives explored. Wallace’s deft eye and ear create poems that keep pace with and come close to matching McQueen’s original sartorial creations. What stands out as the book’s highest accomplishment is how Wallace is able to bring readers again and again to the liminal, imaginative space of inspiration.”

~ Excerpt from the Friday Influence Microreview & Interview, by José Araguz

“Wallace says she read of McQueen’s death and became fascinated about a world she’d never entered. Fashion design. Wallace re-creates the life of Alexander McQueen with fantasy, interviews, and classic literature. Every poem underscores the creativity of a mind that used cloth and obsession to make prodigious statements. The only way to imprint poetry was to be as original as the famous dress designer, with words instead of threads, and to be as principled. What you’ll like most is the scope of the work where every poem is completely unlike the next; the calculus changing with new visions and heightened imagination. Wallace has found her feet and has advanced poetry with style.”

~ Excerpt from “September 2018 Exemplars: Poetry Reviews by Grace Cavalieri” in The Washington Independent, where she lists HOUSE OF MCQUEEN as one of the “Best poetry books for fall.”

“Within Wallace’s skillfully crafted poems we are in school, under the presser foot, discarded on the shop floor, almost literally threaded through the poems….The poet’s shrewd use of form means we arrive at the man through his medium. . . The collection comes at an important time for both English and American audiences following Brexit and the election of President Trump. Wallace’s poems hold up a mirror to the reader, daring us to feel disgust or delight, to challenge the status quo. This is not unlike one of McQueen’s most talked about show stunts for his collection Voss, where the audience was forced to stare at their own reflections from a giant, mirrored runway box whose walls dropped—after an uncomfortable hour—to reveal his models inside a makeshift psychiatric hospital. The poems are likewise in turns beautiful and confrontational and sometimes both at once.”

~ Excerpt from “Conjuring Gossamer Ghosts”, by Lorena Parker Matejowsky in Aquifer: the Florida Review Online

“Wallace’s poems about the life and work of British fashion designer and couturier Alexander McQueen (1969-2010) are simultaneously sharp and whimsical, risk-taking and carefully wrought, and so layered and thought-provoking that they complicate any easy critique or celebration of the fashion industry. Neither hagiography nor hatchet-job, House of McQueen invites us to ponder fashion, like poetry, as a richly paradoxical evocation of “being alive.” In Wallace’s hands, McQueen is as much a character as a historical figure, and the collection reads like a lyrical novel—think Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red—more than a biopic.”

~Exceprt from “Freedom is a Bitch: A Review of Valerie Wallace’s House of McQueen by Virginia Bell in The Nervous Breakdown

“… ‘Have I offended you then?’ Wallace asks, but what offense can be raised where historical, personal, and creative corridors bid illimitable reflections in the looking glass. The reflection hall is ‘a promise to share the fireflies in your brain / with the crickets in my brain.’ The brain of Alexander McQueen bid the boundaries of creativity, and now, in ghost, a visionary channel for Wallace’s luminous ‘walk together / In imaginary land over the earthly ground,’ where each poem unravels new transgressions. In the new century as McQueen ‘weaves a new fabric which doesn’t exist,’ so too, Wallace imbibes a new vernacular beyond personal lyric….”

~ Excerpt from “‘[When staggering down the runway wearing tartan over torn lace]’… A Review of Valerie Wallace’s House of McQueen” by Maureen Alsop in Anomaly

“Many of Wallace’s poems on the page are themselves “fashioned,” as if taking off from their subject,  including “McQueen Tartan,” “I’m a Free Bitch,” “Haute Couture (acrostic)” – based on a quote from McQueen, “…at the end of the day, they’re only clothes” – “McQueen Neoprene,” “McQueen Linen,” “McQueen Cashmere,” and the gorgeous “In this one there are dancers,” which is like a sunburst on the page, each line a ray, or a flower, each line a blossom, a wheel, each line a spoke. The poem, Wallace tells us in her notes, is after McQueen’s 2005 spring/summer show, Deliverance.…You can see the man at his work table.”

~ Excerpt from “House of McQueen Review” by Charles Rammelkamp, in Misfit

“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

Sundress Publications named HOUSE OF MCQUEEN “Best Dressed” for the week of November 5, 2018! Donna Vorreyer curated a feature poem from the book each day. LINK


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