I was sent a review copy of this book. Right away, I was fascinated by the beautiful and evocative cover design. This is a well-made book. Good fonts, good paper.
And I enjoyed this book. It’s the type of part-surreal, part-haunted type of poetry I tend to like. Lovely word constructions and almost-but-not-quite rational meanings tipping slightly out of reach. The book is divided into many small sections that, for the most part, play as small little harrowing journeys. Ghosts ripple throughout the book. The obscure poem titles feel very painterly. The poems themselves have surface tension. Subjects ooze with darkness, bone and flesh. The word lifeboat floats through many of the pieces throughout the book. An other-worldliness of death has been created. The pieces are full of loneliness and suffering with often cryptic meanings but still enjoyable (after all, bleak is beautiful). Big concepts are drawn in particular ways that feel almost, but not fully, recognizable. These poems are enigmatic, wandering souls.
This line from one of the poems: "Your daily search for catacombs will end on your front door” immediately reminded me of the current One Story short story named "Catacombs" by Jason Zencka where a preteen boy goes missing in Acapulco and his younger brother suffers through issues of memory, guilt and a spiritual search for redemption in the catacombs of cities around the world.
As an aside, I really enjoy One Story. If a barometer on literary journals is how excited you get when they arrive in the mail, One Story would be my favorite. I have to admit, I never got excited over Poetry's arrival. The bad thing about One Story is how hard it is to get the darn thing. Both of my subscriptions have necessitated emails after months of not getting any issues. The first year there was some odd subscription snafu after my free trial ended and I had actually paid for it. This year, the publishers seemed to be on hiatus while they redesigned themselves. No emails, no heads-up, no setting expectations, no welcome back. If you can deal with these kinds of aggravations, (which are quite unique in the magazine subscription world), there’s much to recommend in their selections.
But back to the poems. Here are some examples:
The little girl tells us
about her hands
and what they cannot do:
“This is how you hold
a thing in your hand
so it will not want
to be let go.”
Then she shows us
her empty palm.
The opening line of "Preface to a Pornographer’s Dirty Book" is also indicative of how almost-sensical the poems can be:
“Love is foreplay waiting to happen”
Her poem “Steady Guide” begins with
“The senseless steering that has led you to believe that all skies are created equal.”
and ends with:
“And just like that bakery boy guzzling sugar when our backs are turned, you make sure that nobody sees you hunched like that, that nobody sees you in pain.”
Surely that must remind you of somebody. This is how it felt reading the whole book.