“In the breathtaking debut collection Slack Tongue City, Mackenzie Berry remixes the state of Kentucky: it is a state of mind, a state of being, and a state of regional identity where the geographic boundary between rural and urban form this lyricist’s playground. ‘Louisville’s the South because you have to trip your tongue up to say it right,’ writes Berry, her slack tongue making its unique music—peppering her city with spice, grit, and irreverence. Slack Tongue City is an electric hymnal that Berry expertly concocts from fast horses, strong bourbon, jug bands, blood, gutters, riverbeds, and magnolia blossoms. These poems make me smile out loud. I find myself sucking them through my teeth, like good meat. Devour this book. It’s delicious.”
—Shayla Lawson, author of This is Major: Notes on Diana Ross, Dark Girls, and Being Dope
“In Slack Tongue City, Mackenzie Berry makes the case that Louisville, her hometown, serves as our shadow capital, a sister city to places like New Orleans or St. Louis, communities completely original and trapped between worlds. As vital as the liver or the spleen, and equally unacknowledged or abused, until one is at the edge of catastrophe, Kentucky is central to our American body politic. Like Komunyakaa’s Bogalusa and Levine’s Detroit, Berry masterfully sketches the anatomy of a city. This debut is an invitation, but the keys to this world are carefully hidden.”
–Amaud Jamaul Johnson, author of Imperial Liquor and Red Summer
"The slack-tongue syntax of Berry’s speaker places her in a tradition with Maurice Manning and his rural colloquialisms, but where Manning is speaking from the hills and hollers, Berry is giving us a tour through the River City. Her speaker says things like, 'Good eating to die quick & well' and 'feeling the wind is like flying standing still.' She knows that when it comes to the Hot Brown 'most of us have not had one / unless you’re a tourist, in which case / you are not us” and that, 'while Louisville has never been known for poems,' our most beloved son is 'Muhammad Ali, another poet, a Louisville Poet.' Slack Tongue City is an archive of a city, fast-changing due to a growing tourist industry and the arrival of gentrification—and this voice from the interior is a precious repository of memory. In these poems, the ways we talk and the ways we tradition—the ways we myth and memory, eat and escape, pass jokes and parade—live forever."
–Joy Priest, author of Horsepower
"Steel-eyed and tender, Slack Tongue City is a love letter to Louisville, to the South, to the multitude of selves contained in Mackenzie Berry’s artful rendering of her beloved home. These poems do more than just bear witness—which they do—with Berry’s careful precision, natural lyricism, and sly wit. Whether in lament or in praise, these poems sing with intimate knowledge of a Kentucky landscape and of her people: they testify, they pray, they spell-bind. And like truly good poems, they leave us hungry for more. This is a fierce and standout debut from a remarkable young poet, whose voice has already secured a place among a new generation of Southern writers. Mackenzie Berry is a force."