The Best Prey is the first collection of poetry from author Paige Quiñones and the winner of the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize for Poetry, administered through Pleiades Press. The raw opening lines of an early poem titled “Black Magic Pact” serve to introduce the collection. With a sense of palpable intensity, Quiñones writes,
the devil is my plaything
so I’ll bring the bacchanalia
my pussy is a cobra’s laughing
maw just grope her
to feel my efficient fangs
I have been torn in half
more than once but I know
a potion that might / make us whole
These three stanzas present, in microcosm, the major themes and dilemmas that concern The Best Prey. Sexual desire and moments of intense, lustful eros are tempered by more ironic and, at times, almost wistful sentiments which lament lost connections and missed opportunities. Quiñones situates desire as the fluxing heart of the collection and imbues its hunger with a Dionysian power and wildness. Like the diffuse wolf pictured on its cover, desire prowls through The Best Prey as a force that threatens the very autonomy of the self by drawing selves and others together or ripping them apart in ways that threaten bodily dissociation or abject apathy.
Self, for Quiñones, is a fluid condition that is determined by place, heritage, body, and the irrational pulls exerted by irrational passions. The Best Prey shows that self is unstable and exists in shadowy and unconscious spaces. Rather than feeling burdened by this phenomenon, Quiñones’s poems revel in the slippages and half-realized possibilities that come with having—or being—a self. Poems demonstrate the myriad possibilities of selfhood and the radically reconfigured versions of a self that can emerge from circumstances beyond an individual’s control. As Quiñones puts it in the poem “Elegy Ending on the Ocean Floor,”
In another life, I’d like to be an eddying bioluminescence
or the aurora’s gleaming greeting. In this one
I lust like a metronome.
Personas throughout the collection feel intense emotional distress as they ricochet between lusting to break out of the constraints (bodily, psychological, and metaphysical) that come with having a self and, conversely, desiring to achieve maximal intimacy and connection between one’s self and the self of another. The condition is wonderfully contradictory. Quiñones is a deft enough poet to revel in this contradiction and, throughout the collection, seems to tease that fulfilling desire leads to a seething undoing of a self that has been violently, uneasily conjoined with another. In the aptly titled “Ode to Hysteria + Anhedonia,” she makes the request:
let’s sleep together
since my legs are your legs
& your hands are my almost-twins
sometimes I crave your mouth
more than my own—
together we read the stars
& decide I’m our best prey
I ask us both again
why don’t we just
drown each other
This alluring combination of assertion and self-destruction characterizes much of The Best Prey. Quiñones pushes passion and lust to their inflammatory extreme. But, as she shows elsewhere, love and intimacy are not always emotional conflagrations. The drive to connect with others can lead to strange hollow spaces filled with uncomfortable silences and hints of trauma that cross generational lines and pose fundamentally unanswerable questions about family history and identity. Individuals’ relationships to their families and pockets of secrecy and silence within those connections are an integral part of every self. Quiñones gestures to the complex overlays of memory, identity, and family in a poem titled, “Dueña del Bosque,”
You think you can return to that place
where your feral tía
climbed down from the mountain . . .
But that place is now overgrown . . .
A girl once hunted there,
her urchin-dark eyes searching.
Rats have taken her place.
Such poems feel tormented by the weight of family history, disclosed or hidden, and Quiñones’s personae are also haunted by thoughts of continuing the family line.
The collection possesses a Nietzschean fascination with the uninhibited and the saturnalian, which is appropriately mirrored in Quiñones’s frequent invocation of the bacchanal and, affectively, in the poems’ intoxicating affect. Like Nietzsche’s prized Dionysian art, Quiñones’s poems pursue tantalizing threads of desire and lust through various forms, culminating in a restless collection whose desirous revelry at times exceeds the limits placed on it by poetic form. Through lacunae within lines, surreal memories, and half-imaginary conversations (as in the wonderful “Tasseography”), the collection shifts forms, poetic modes, and languages to accommodate the impossibly permeable boundaries that separate self from family, from other, and from half-remembered pseudo-selves.
The Best Prey shows a talented poet setting out to conquer the untamable, fully aware of—in fact, leaning into—the tensions and impossibilities that come with such paradoxical territory. The dynamic, charged poems take pleasure in the body and its mercurial appetites—forming a sustained ode to the joys and deficits of desire and its unquenchable, consumptive drive.
About the Reviewer
Connor Fisher is the author of four chapbooks including The Hinge (Epigraph Magazine, 2018) and Speculative Geography (Greying Ghost Press, forthcoming 2021). He has an MFA from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a PhD in Creative Writing and English from the University of Georgia. His poetry and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Typo, the Colorado Review, Tammy, Posit, Cloud Rodeo, and the Denver Quarterly.