A Review of Kristin Garth’s 'Shakespeare for Sociopaths'
By Jared Benjamin
Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2019.
43 Pages, paperback, $15.00
Throughout his lifetime, William Shakespeare had 160 sonnets published (about 154 in his famed collection of sonnets, and another six sonnets that were included in some of his plays). Over 400 years later, Pensacola native, Kristin Garth has topped that number at 173 and counting. Along with her other sonnet masterpieces, Shakespeare for Sociopaths explores explicit themes in order to convey explicit detail. The entire collection is a culmination of 21st century musings cupped together with personal experiences. However, it is much more than a collection, it is a series of confrontations with phantoms from another time. “Shakespeare for Sociopaths,” navigates through a compendium of topics concerning mental health, toxic masculinity, and sexual assault. What is so remarkable is the way Garth utilizes the power of pop culture references and social candor to illustrate such issues.
In poems such as “Dora” Garth depicts,
The doll that does him in: an explorer…
a monster makes vacation. Only costs
besides a ticket: earrings, baby doll.
I know this may be triggering
The poem becomes more graphic, and as triggering as it is (I also edited some of the words out of respect for survivors), I feel Garth’s bravery should be an account of someone who has overcome so much and is not afraid to let her language become a stance. Taking a character designed for children under the age of 6, and introducing her in a different light, to tell a different story.
Another brilliant use of pop culture referencing is shown in Garth’s visceral poem about the gore in changing one’s body to fit social imagery. In the poem Christian of Troy, Garth refers to the TV Character, Dr. Christian Troy from the mid-2000s FX television series Nip/Tuck.
their plastic prince, da Vinci beauties bled,
by flesh convinced. Vampiric charm, red stains
on scrubs; females are easy to open,
impossible to love.
What is moving about this sonnet is how it demonstrates the toxicity in trying to tear a body into shambles in order to fit into someone else’s perfect portrait; a vehement environment expressed as well in the show it’s based on. Along with childhood incantations and the plasticized underbelly of Hollywood, the fascination with “true crime” resonates throughout this collection. Garth’s sonnet, entitled Murderess is gripping to the last detail.
sentenced to neglect, decay, demise. Yet
how it prolongs the wither, savors its
confinement, torture one more day. Perhaps
its life is proof to force me to admit
it's not only that my good intentions lapse.
There's bad ones inside, too, that will not give.
It's easier to kill than learn to live.
Another poem conveying this “true crime” mentality is the piece Senator. It tells the story of a politician abusing his power in order to take advantage of a young woman. A story still told in so many lives to this day,
You have me. Younger than your daughter, all
the hair I have removed or bleached at your
request, camera ready for your call
to action. "Think of them as me but more."
Garth once again pieces together her own story of survival to illustrate problematic archetypes like the senator and Dr. Troy in her work.
“Shakespeare for Sociopaths” is not only a testament to Garth’s brilliance and musicality; not only a literary testament to the resurgence of sonnets in our post-post modern era; it’s a pop-culture fueled, socially-charged Molotov cocktail to the canonization of rape culture. A giant middle finger to the wicked souls of every abuser, every monster crawling out of the bosom of their privilege. Garth exhumes a brave, unfettered magic that isn’t afraid to call out the patriarchy for all of its norms and all of its ghosts.
Jared Benjamin (or also known by his pen name/stage name, J.B. Stone) is a neurodivergent writer and slam poet from Brooklyn, now residing in Buffalo. Stone is the author of A Place Between Expired Dreams and Renewed Nightmares (Ghost City Press 2018) and the forthcoming Fireflies & Hand Grenades (Stasia Press 2019). His work has appeared in BlazeVOX, Peach Mag, Glass, Empty Mirror, Maudlin House, Crack the Spine, Occulum, and elsewhere. You can check out more of his work atjaredbenjaminstone.com or his tweets @JB_StoneTruth.