Book Review: A Victorian Dollhousing Ceremony by Justin Karcher, Tianna G. Hansen, and Kristin Garth

review by Jared Benjamin


A Victorian Dollhousing Ceremony is a three way-waltz, dancing and swaying to the tune of a poetic ballet. Collaborated by poets Kristin Garth (as “The Doll”), Tianna G. Hansen (as “The Firebird”), and Justin Karcher (as “The Wizard”); the entirety of this collaborative collection reads like an epic ballroom blitz, creating an unbridled, truthful magic. A magic embedded into the chasms of every broken soul.

In the first poem by Justin Karcher, the alias in his enigmatic archetype starts this set of tales, through a soliloquy recounting past demons that made homes inside a body once void of magic, now bountiful of it:

Before my teeth were swampy gemstones, I was but a boy

begging for scraps on the outskirts of some walled city

here was the mighty city with its musclemen and gutter nuns

here was the mighty city with its garbage trucks and concert halls

the songs the police sing when they beat desert into rain

what firefighters sing as they shove candles into graves

here was the mighty city mangling widows with debt and cobblestone”

savior saves something to destroy


Throughout this entire collection, Justin confronts the apparitions of his past in order to show an audience of readers what healing after a bedlam of pain looks like.

Then there is sonneteer Kristin Garth, who displays her experiences in the arms of toxic lusters, entrancing readers with the heartbreaking story of deceit. In the poem, Choreographers, readers can see this is not a song Garth wanted to dance to at first, but it’s one she finds refuge in showcasing inside the open wound of her stanzas:

By night, you bleed within, a sacrifice

that does not end at barre or with your art —

new bruises, uses, love you pay for twice,

pink tights, fishnets, careless rips of heart.

In dreams, you see all of them. His face becomes

a hundred men. First taught you to pretend,

bequeathing punishment with sugarplums.

You bite your lip and let them in again.”


Garth may represent “The Doll,” but unlike a pinned-up barbie, she is full of life and uses the magic in the pink plastic house of her words to build the bravery that one finds in a survivor’s biopic. The Doll is a symbol of the trials and tribulations one could experience in the clownish abyss of western patriarchy. The bullshit one goes through just to be loved, only to find heartbreak, and to be rejoined with the closest thing away from it, through the underrated mystic sanctuary in a paper pad and a pen.

Lastly there is Tianna G. Hansen, also known as the firebird, who bursts out her own poetic solos and belts the libretto of work that sings to readers like angels trying to re-attach their wings. In Basement Dreamscape Tianna breathes object personification into a reluctant smokescreen of past lives. Readers pay witness to a burning that swells the furnace of the firebird:

All around you nests worldly treasures, archives of

mysticism and impossibility, more a freakshow of

trapped desires and dreams

floating into existence with sheer wizardly will

you are nothing more now than a bottled wonder

exhibit to be shown, gazed upon. No longer

real to the outside world. you once dreamed of


and becoming magnificent with your flames

perhaps you are a witch yearning for the stake

to feel the burn across slick skin instead of

consuming all inside. 


Tianna resurrects the ghosts of lyrical alienation only to give us a glimpse at a world view that doesn’t seek the means to a happy ending. Yet, the sheer honesty, the breadth of someone who doesn’t tell their story just to see readers smile.

Although in normal folklore, a wizard, a doll and a firebird would be completely different individuals in almost any situation; Karcher, Garth, and Hansen all have one major thing in common. They all share a magic in speaking one’s personalized truths in the guise of something fantastical. To turn tragedy into a wandering ghost in need of vanquishing; to turn the lies and deceit of bad romances into a set of rhythmic numbers patterns displayed for the literary dancefloors of the world to see; to unwind the fabric of time and space only to weave together the days of your own losses, the mental anguish that burns inside us all.