Marlena Chertock grew up crumb-sized, with a rare bone disorder. She uses this skeletal dysplasia and chronic pain as a bridge to scientific poetry, often exploring the rich images in science and medicine, threading genetics, space, and nature into her work. With frank humor, Chertock takes on varied and critical aspects of identity―femininity, gender, sexuality―as they relate (or don’t relate) to her disability, somehow succeeding in making them familiar and universal. Her poetry is one that challenges us to see our limitations, not as individuals but as people together, all of us, ultimately, crumb-sized. Born in 1991, Chertock’s is an exciting and contemporary voice―brutally honest, deeply humane and ultimately triumphant.
In the poem “Application to Nasa”, she writes of her struggle to accept the physical limitations that will keep her bound to Earth, and yet, at the end she counters with this
still I’m strong. I may be one of the strongest candidates you’ve ever had.
In another poem, she urges us to keep seeing beyond Keep magnifying the universe ― because it’s still expanding, with or without you.
Accessible and plain-speaking, the poems of Crumb-sized ask questions anyone who has suffered a little can relate to; an inspirational and uplifting book for young and old alike.
Marlena Chertock has two books of poetry, Crumb-sized (Unnamed Press, 2017) and On that one-way trip to Mars (Bottlecap Press, 2016). She uses her skeletal dysplasia and chronic pain as a bridge to scientific poetry. Marlena is the Co-Chair of OutWrite, Washington, D.C.'s annual LGBTQ literary festival, and regularly moderates or speaks on panels at literary conferences and festivals. Find her at marlenachertock.com or @mchertock.
Marlena Chertock's latest collection of poetry is as lovely to read as it is to hold. Her words are open, honest, unflinchingly brave, attuned to pain, and uplifting. This little book is so kind to the hand and eye, its cover textured like worn denim, the poems interspersed with images unfolding a rhyming of their own. We owe Chertock a debt of gratitude for giving voice to those in our midst who all too often go un-noted, or noticed for the wrong reasons. As if from the crumbs of calcified bone, she has drawn ancient wisdom to guide our paths into an uncertain future.
Marlena Chertock embodies the spirit of making lemonade from lemons in her collection Crumb-Sized. I love lemonade. A primary theme of Marlena’s work is her physical challenges and pain. In “Rikkud” she writes “my hips and knees are kindling / and I can’t give them more air / or my bones become crisps // the only bonfire dancing.” The voice is whimsical, but honest and vulnerable, and the poems feel in constant motion, perhaps like the orbits of planets. Marlena provides lovely descriptions of fragility that elevate disability to something precious and worth gentle and deep consideration.
This book is striking in a few ways. One is for it being a wonderful collection of words. Another is that it has a great size and feel. Unnamed Press did well making Crumb-Sized a bit smaller in dimension than the average poetry collection and the texture of the paper feels nice against fingertips. Also it’s visually interesting with great graphics that speak to me of shells, or maybe growth rings of a tree, as well as of course planets and solar systems. I say of course because space is a primary theme of Chertock’s collection. Reading “Application to NASA,” the second of this twenty-nine poem collection, makes me want to start a letter-writing campaign to help make this woman an astronaut! I’d put my faith in her to extend a hand to other life forms and teach me about all I can’t see. This collection inspires me in this way.
The first thing you notice about the book—so the first thing I’ll mention—is how beautifully it’s designed. It is an amazing example of how form can both align with and augment content. “Crumb-sized” is small in size, with minimalist design that subtly evokes Chertock’s interest in space. The inside is just as thoughtfully put together as the poems are, with interstitial graphics evolving as readers progress through the book.
Now on to the content: Chertock explores her skeletal dysplasia and chronic pain in a completely unique way, tying it to her fascination with space and science. In “Rearrange your DNA,” for example, she contemplates reshaping a body through DNA and living a satisfying life as a jellyfish or a segmented beetle, in a way that makes us see the beauty in the transformation:
“Bring food to the hill—you all rely on each other. /If you collapse or get stepped on, the others will/place you on their backs, return you home.”
This is the ethos of the book, tackling disability head-on in a way that allows us to see the imagination and humanity behind the pain. It is enriching, and a pleasure to read.
This book was powerful, my mother is disabled and I couldnt help but think of her while reading. Her poems aren't cryptic they are clear and invite you to take a walk in her shoes and her mind for a while.
Wonderful poems and prose from the POV of someone who is technically disabled but has the mindset of someone very much able in spite of their physical differences. I'll read anything she writes, for sure.