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Front Cover for House of McQueen by Valerie Wallace

paper • 66 pages • 15.95
ISBN-13: 978-1-945588-11-2

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House of McQueen

Valerie Wallace

On The Chicago Review of Books’ 10 Best Poetry Books of 2018 List.

Selected by Vievee Francis for the 2016 Four Way Books Intro Prize in Poetry, 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.

“McQueen’s Bop with the Interviewer” from House of McQueen:

I’ve tried my best to get away
from the Little Black Dress.
That uniform makes mine eyes glaze over!
How can you trust counterfeit elegance?
There’s something ignorant
in women who wear sparrows.

I want people to be afraid
of the women I dress.

Waif who needs rescuing
isn’t romance.
I’ve seen naiveté
I know what can happen.
Someone’s life is burning
from this world’s brutal kiss.
I am | you are
the voyeur | the mirror.

I want people to be afraid
of the women I dress.This is sartorial,
but, O softness.

O radiance.
Leather, locusts, shells, fur
The clothes I make
don’t acquiesce.
Here teeth, and nets,
art of armor.

I want people to be afraid
of the women I dress.


  • “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 after model’s conversations with and about McQueen give it the air of court gossip, pieces of interviews and 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, 2016 Four Way Books Intro Prize in Poetry judge
  • “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
  • “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
  • "'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
  • "...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
  • "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)...." Read the full review.
  • "...In 'House of McQueen,' she dresses the mannequin of the artist’s biographical outline in masks and materials that evoke the 'vulgar joy' in which McQueen reveled, leaving the reader with a renewed sense of the meaning of his own too-brief life." Read the full review.
  • "... readers will find rich rewards." Read the full review.
  • "...'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...."Read the full review.
  • "Wallace’s poetic exploration of the late Alexander McQueen’s life and work is truly fascinating, a gorgeous translation of reality into something mythical and timeless." Read the full review.
  • "...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." Read the full review.
  • "...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. This is Wallace’s first collection, but the poet’s understanding of craft is deep and historically-minded enough to dwell with McQueen’s cutting-edge aesthetic...." Read the full review.