Two-Headed Nightingale

Shara Lessley’s Two-Headed Nightingale has been described as less a freak of nature than a paradox of imagination. The book’s title recalls John Keats’s “light-winged Dryad of the trees,” but is also the stage name of 19th C. conjoined songstresses and slaves Christine and Millie McCoy. In many ways these two subjects—the natural world and the world of female performers (both public and private)—serve as the project’s bookends. Two-Headed Nightingale is populated by circus aerialists and ballet dancers, ghost moths and decomposing starlings; its page, filled with things that are deviant, anatomical, dark, and often overlooked.


Two-Headed Nightingale is dark and irregular and filled with light [...] I look forward to reading anything Lessley writes [...] I’m anxious to see how her enormous talent will manifest next.

       —Renee Ashley, The Literary Review


Two-Headed Nightingale examines and unravels those myths: the ones “we live and die by.” Most of these performers, contrary to myth, don’t “make it.” The dancers are broken, the trapeze artists plunge to their death. But in a collection that opens and closes with poems about dead birds being torn apart, we don’t expect triumph. We expect hardship and trial. And that’s where the Lessley’s superb poetry comes from: the beauty and brutality of the ordeal.

       —Ryan Teitman, The Rumpus


I am breathless here, I am empathetic, and I am emphatic. [Lessley] has crafted a book of poems that makes her story all of our stories and has taught us how to face ourselves in a way that extends poetry’s stewardship of the self...

       —Christian Anton Gerard, Smartish Pace

Available from Powell’s, Amazon, SPD, and Indie Bound