The Loneliest Show On Earth, by Jessie Lynn McMains

The Loneliest Show On Earth, by Jessie Lynn McMains

Bottlecap Press
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Poetry, paperback, 80 pages, illustrated, from Bottlecap Press.

In this book-length fabulist poem, Jessie Lynn McMains uses the backdrop of the circus, sideshow, and carnival world to work through issues of identity, community, loss, trauma, and desire.

At the heart of The Loneliest Show On Earth are these questions: when you are, in some way, Other, what is there to do but run away with the circus (either real or metaphorical)? And then, when the traumas you experience among the people who were supposed to keep you safe, turn out to be just as bad as anything that happens in the outside world—or when the circus closes its tent flaps for good—where do you go from there? When you run away from the circus, will there be another one to join?

"Jessie Lynn McMains opens The Loneliest Show On Earth with a quirky, archetypal invitation: 'Ladies & jellyspoons, boys/& ghouls—Step right up & see/a true freak, a real/me,' drawing us into the circus and the freakish picaresque of female selfhood—'O my chimerical sister,/ my metaphor, myself.' And thus we tumble into this many-headed hybrid, a book-length novelistic poem/poemish novel that, within the image palette of the circus freak show, contemplates gender, romance, myth, loneliness, and identity. 'Yes, I traveled back & forth across America, small town to smaller, destroying amber waves/of eligible bachelors,' she riffs. 'I am a one-woman Dust Bowl.' Let it be said McMains knows the realm of which she speaks, from funnel cake to Bearded Lady to the woman who dances on shards of glass. I recommend you step right up and in; read this delight by a 'divinatrix in her tent of stars.'"

-Diane Seuss, author of Four-Legged Girl and Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl

"What if a band of feral punk nomads – raised in the woods, and wielding an oracular language of intimacy, artifice, and daggers – rode into town and made a circus for the weirdos? What if The Waste Land took place on a fairground with winged girls and infants in jars? Jessie Lynn McMains's The Loneliest Show on Earth understands the gendered body like a sideshow tent of strangeness, an arena in which cacophonous voices – and stories of competing origins – play out against death in the glimmering spotlight. To quote McMains, this gorgeous and unsettling elegy is 'too damn special for the normie world'; it revels, deliriously and deliciously, in its own stunning freakiness."

-Marty Cain, author of Kids of the Black Hole

Jessie Lynn McMains (they/she) is a multi-genre writer, small press owner, zine-maker, and dabbler in tarot, music, and visual art. Their writing has appeared or is forthcoming in many publications, including Memoir Mixtapes, FIVE : 2 : ONE, Okay Donkey, Pussy Magic, Tiny Essays, and Barnhouse. They were the recipient of the 2019 Hal Prize for poetry, and were the 2015-2017 Poet Laureate of Racine, WI. They are the author of several chapbooks, and recently self-published a collection of their nonfiction, titled What We Talk About When We Talk About Punk. The Loneliest Show On Earth is their first full-length book of poetry. You can find their website at, or find them on Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram @rustbeltjessie