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Satan Talks to His Therapist

Satan Talks to His Therapist

Melissa Balmain

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91-page paperback / 5.5" x 8.5" / ISBN 9781589881815
Publication Date: 9/12/2023 

"If the LOLSOB emoji could write verse that both sings and stings, the result would be Satan Talks to His Therapist."
—Allison Joseph, author of Confessions of a Barefaced Woman

In Satan Talks to His Therapist, Melissa Balmain explores the lighter side of dark times. Playful yet poignant, her poems perfectly capture our human fallibility and comedic sense of importance.

The collection begins with “On Looking at an MRI Cross-Section,” in which Balmain peeks inside her own skull to consider the jumble of thoughts and memories harbored there. After this introduction to the poet's inner world, the book divides into three sections: Spiraling Down, In Limbo, and Climbing Out. The poems in this lyrical descent and ascent are about climate change, social media, pandemics, politics (sexual and otherwise), parenthood, consumerism, aging, loss, and ills, both physical and societal. Balmain writes in meter and rhyme, and she uses traditional forms (sonnets, villanelles, terza rima) as well as ones she’s coined for the moment.

The poems in Satan Talks to His Therapist provide clarity and comedy in a time that feels anything but clear or comic, and they hint at the consolations of art, kindness, maturity, persistence, love, and, of course, humor.


“Balmain treads that fine line between comedy and tragedy in poems graced by telling details, surprising turns, and a keen sense of the absurd … Satan Talks to His Therapist is a serious book that’s very funny, and Melissa Balmain’s gift is being able to tilt toward humor without losing the ache beneath the laughter."
Literary Matters

“Whatever the catastrophe, [Balmain] has the poetic tools to tackle it, so hand her the metrical monkey wrench and calibrated rhymes; she’s going in. She won’t be able to fix the next debacle (who can?), but she’ll show us in memorable ways exactly what went wrong. And if we get some laughs along the way, then all the better.”
—Birmingham Poetry Review

“It turns out that the literary establishment can't quite kill off humorous poetry. Melissa Balmain's Satan Talks to His Therapist is a marvel in the tradition of Martial, Jonathan Swift, and Dorothy Parker and the more recent generation of poets that includes Wendy Cope, X.J. Kennedy, and R.S. Gwynn. It is poetry you will enjoy—and enjoy giving to a friend who needs to see some humor in a world desperate for the medicine of laughter.”
—A.M. Juster, author of Wonder & Wrath

“In one of the wickedly funny poems from Satan Talks to His Therapist, Dorothy Parker’s ghost drops in to comment on a political situation. Don’t believe it for a second, because if Parker’s ghost were to visit a Balmain poem, she would likely set fire to it out of spiteful envy. Melissa Balmain is the once and future Queen of American light verse, and only a ghost could keep from laughing all the way through this marvelous collection.”
—Julie Kane, former Louisiana Poet Laureate and author of Mothers of Ireland

“Melissa Balmain’s poems use precision without derision. She’s a master at the craft of verse—and her incisive wit and rueful intelligence make this book a profound read. This book takes on varied sources of contemporary angst: COVID-19, aging as a woman in a consumer culture, Zoom recitals, and medical mysteries. If the LOLSOB emoji could write verse that both sings and stings, the result would be Satan Talks to His Therapist. Highly recommended for poets and those who think poetry has nothing to do with modern life—Melissa Balmain’s poems will make converts of us all.”
—Allison Joseph, author of Confessions of a Barefaced Woman

“Like Jonathan Swift, Melissa Balmain is a deft metrist and a delightfully inventive rhymer, whose wit is enriched by a great heart. In Satan Talks to His Therapist, she captures the disorientations of the Age of Trump and COVID-19, satirizing the meanness and sympathizing with the suffering. Though the outstanding poems here are too numerous to list, special treasures include ‘On Looking at an MRI Cross-Section,’ the title poem, ‘Niagara Overlook,’ and ‘Reprieve.’”
—Timothy Steele, author of Toward the Winter Solstice

“Balmain was probably funny straight out of the womb, with a huge internal rhyming dictionary, a fearless vocabulary, a scary gift for hilarious imagery, and instantaneous recognition of, and attraction to, the absurd. But her most valuable gift is easy to miss: it’s the capacity to tell the truth, even about the irritating—the even unforgivable!—without the verbal mean streak that normally accompanies humor.”
— Rhina P. Espaillat, author of And After All

“I can’t convey the essence of Satan Talks to His Therapist; it’s Balmain’s language itself that captures contemporary idiom like no other poet I know. Parody is one of her specialties: Don’t gather rosebuds, she advises—just call 1-800-FLOWERS. For Balmain, words and wit are one.”
—Deborah Warren, author of Connoisseurs of Worms


"Melissa Balmain’s poems add to the rhythmic bounce of light verse a darker, more cutting humor. The result is an infectious, often hilarious blend of the sweet and the lethal, the charming and the acidic."
—Billy Collins, Former U.S. Poet Laureate

"Poetry these days is rarely so entertaining, so beautifully crafted, so sharp of eye, yet so wise and warm of heart."
—X. J. Kennedy, winner of the Robert Frost Medal

"Melissa Balmain is the finest light poet in America."
—Michael Gerber, editor and publisher of The American Bystander



for Bill

Yesterday I thought you might be dying;
you couldn’t do a thing I didn’t love.
I rubbed your back and cooked you soup, implying
to God I had the full intention of
becoming much more saintly, there and then,
if only She would make you well again.

Today you’re fine—our miracle’s been granted.
I hate the way you give your soup a slurp.
Each ordinary moment feels enchanted,
although I pray you’ll learn how not to burp.
I’m giddy, I’m delirious, I’m free
to be as petty as I used to be.

"Sidewalk Face-Off"

Look! From opposite directions,
wearing masks to thwart infections,
two athletic pairs of spouses
march past neo-Tudor houses.
Sneakers pound and pulses quicken:
it’s a game of COVID-chicken!

Who will keep on striding forward,
chin and eyeballs firmly lowered?
Who will scurry six feet over
to the dog-doo-studded clover,
fearful that they’ll later sicken
thanks to playing COVID-chicken?

Every day the teams assemble.
Every day their innards tremble
like the innards of scared rabbits,
but they keep their walking habits:
in a world that’s stalled and stricken
there’s no sport but COVID-chicken.

"Being the parent . . ."

                                      . . . means, at family meals,
you pour and ladle while your food congeals,
then eat the Brussels sprouts the children spurned
because they’re burned,
the chicken leg with unattractive gore,
the slice of sourdough that hit the floor.
And if there’s not enough dessert for each,
you grab a peach,
as stoic as Ma Joad,
while they have brownies à la mode.

It means when there’s a spider in the john
so big it ought to have a collar on,
and you would rather opt for spidercide
or simply hide,
you have to show them how to trap the thing
inside a glass, then nonchalantly bring
it out of doors where it can leap and land
as nature planned,
before you stride back in
to find it clinging to your shin.

It means the movies, plays and TV shows
you watch are ones another person chose.
It means you have no privacy. It means
no spicy greens
or stinky cheese or fish that’s on the bone.
And when at last the kids have up and flown
and you’re allowed to do just as you please,
from bugs to bries,
it means this change you thought
would help you miss them less does not.

"Thanksgiving Climate Change Song"
(to the tune of “Over the River and Through the Woods”)

Over the river and through the woods
To Grandma’s we planned to go,
But floods rose all day
And the bridge washed away
And a Honda is hard to row.

Over to Amtrak we went, of course,
Which would have been just fine
If wildfires had not
Occurred on the spot
To block the 4:09.

Over our budget, we caught a plane—
We’d soon take off, we knew!
But cyclones and swarms
Of tropical storms
Had stranded the whole damn crew.

Over and over we tried to Zoom:
Hail knocked the power dead.
No time to stay put,
We’ve departed on foot
For New Year’s Eve instead.

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Melissa Balmain is the editor-in-chief of Light, America’s longest-running journal of comic verse. Her poems and prose have appeared in such places as The American Bystander, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Ecotone, The Hopkins Review, Lighten Up Online, The New Verse News, Poetry Daily, Rattle, and The Washington Post. Balmain is the author of two previous poetry collections, Walking in on People (chosen by X.J. Kennedy for the Able Muse Book Award) and The Witch Demands a Retraction: Fairy Tale Reboots for Adults, as well as a travel memoir. A member of the University of Rochester’s English Department since 2010, she lives nearby with her husband and (for now) one of their two children. She is a recovering mime.

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