Archive for July, 2011

A Review of “Sparrow & Other Eulogies” by Megan Martin

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

Spencer Dew

This beautifully produced little book relishes around with language, ranging from quirky trips of tinfoil meditations, newsprint postcards and bleeding disco balls to more sober consideration of words in the gaping maw of time. Eulogies and playfully quilted epistolarities bloom here, lush and pleasant to romp around in. “When I pray for doves, stray pigeons descend to me; I strap sentence-scraps satcheled to their backs, fly them off cross-country at random intervals,” we hear at one point. “Inside the hot black pit of you,” we’re told at another, “objects once ours floated on the dark. Scraps of postcard, photograph, mandolin, blooming forest: too heavy to swim up.”

So while some of this volume locates itself “Inside the velveteen whalemouth” or with the hallucinogenic wisps of narrative accumulated in phrases like “The mailman arrives with notification that my lightbulb resides in Antarctica, in the cellar of the Nightmare Fishery Museum. He has a picture. He has a map.” there is a lower key as well, wherein “the whale corpse” washes up on the beach, “its ruined, mineral grin” stark in the morning light. “Someday bits of my story will fall somewhere in the vicinity of your coordinates?” a narrative voice emerges, at one point, to ask, and while such fallout is envisioned in the same wild register as the mailman’s news (will my story “Materialize in your medicine chest, the toe of a brand-new tubesock, on your tongue during a dream of snow?” the poem asks), this is no nonsensical surface play. Rather, there is something painfully real under the images, visceral as a “Gash of belly; an opening in a gutted story to swim out of; a cloud of ink-stained blood.”

“I will never have that hot sauce, that grandmother, that handwriting again,” reads another poem, archiving loss. A nostalgia for that which has been drowned, ruined, bled over and lost its teeth permeates this collection, yet relayed in crackling braids of phrase. “Problem:  I’ve forgotten the correct dimensions with which to construct a tear. (I believe Mother used romancenovel-cornstarch-laced-with-celebrity-obituary. But hers turned out flat and unintelligible as razor blades.)”  This is a satisfying book, well worth the ticket price.

Official Megan Martin Web Site
Official Gold Wake Press Web Site

A Review of “Emergency Room Wrestling” by The Dirty Poet

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

Spencer Dew

The first image in this book is of “a 400 pound naked man” with “necrotizing fasciitis—flesh-eating bacteria—/of the crotch” and of the poet-narrator “helping three nurses reinsert his rectal trumpet.” There is horror, to be sure, in a scrotum, devoured by some invisible force, but what haunts about this brief, rough, solid poem is the patient’s denial, that he acted “like most men—ignore it, hoping it would go away,” which says as much about the sociology and economics of medical care as publisher Karen Lillis’s passionate preface on the medical-pharmaceutical complex.  Whoever the Dirty Poet is, he has worked as an emergency room attendant for several decades, and he has scenes to relive and stories to tell, which is what he does in this slim but gut-wrenching, extremely impressive volume.

A line in the dedication note says “hospitals exist; misery is real.” Respect for and allegiance to the reality of human suffering characterizes Emergency Room Wrestling, thick as it is with blunt trauma and victims of assorted accidents, the tears of parents and the sting of catheters and addicts bucking against their restraints or ripping loose from their various life-preserving tubes. A man spits one of his own teeth at a nurse. A bloodied kid, when “asked what happened … looked up at us and wildly offered / i just got my ASS kicked.” A man believes “the i-phone in his chest / told him to take an x-acto knife” and sever his penis, “plus one testicle for interest.”

Another man, upon admittance, “was so wasted he asked was anyone else in the car? / only your dead wife, dude / no one told him this / but he saw it on the news that night.”

Gallows humor abounds, as it must, a survival mechanism in a world crowded with botched suicides, where nurses and attendants are desperately “juggling bodies, crises, bloody tracheas / wall-to-wall patients gasping for air.” But these poems are also marked by stripped-down, functional language—the language of work, work wherein every second matters and where everything is at stake. “i hustle to the trauma bay,” reads a representative line, “blasted like that, the man’s gonna die / but maybe not.” So much depends on that slim hope, which, in turn, depends less on the “voodoo” the surgeons perform than the basic, repetitive, maintenance and preparatory tasks, the messy, often explosively liquid tasks. “but i’m sweating with this guy i extubated and can’t reintubate / he absolutely could use oxygen about now,” read another line, capturing the pace. There is tragedy in these pages—extreme sadness, loss, horror—but for those who work elbow-deep in it, there is also always somewhere else to be, someone else with vitals to check or bedpans to change. The emotional drama of the patients and their family is at the sidelines here, as in one stunning piece describing the step-by-step measures taken on the slim odds of keeping one man around:

i stick in a nasal trumpet
i stick in an oral airway
i stick a suction catheter up his nose
triggering a vast bubble of yellow bile out his mouth
step back! i shout
the room screams

What impresses me the most about the Dirty Poet is he is that, with minimal language, he allows the humanity of everyone involved to be present, palpable, even while the main concern here—the most engaging perspective—isn’t that of the grieving or freaking or hand-wringing relatives, nor the walking or wheeled-around wounded, but the man and women whose job it is to pick up that patient who has “fallen out of bed” and who looks “like a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich / smeared with shit and blood.” The coexistence of gallows humor and empathy, and the ability to convey this confluence on the page—this is what gives Emergency Room Wrestling real wings. So when the narrator speaks of needing “a couple of beers to cut the grease in my soul,” we know well what he means, and may even feel likewise…knowing, too, that it can’t ever be enough. “hospitals exist; misery is real”:  and here are poems that bear necessary and affecting witness to that reality.

Official Words Like Kudzu Press Web Site

A Review of “Imperfect Solitude” by Tom Mahony

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

Jessica Maybury

On first glance, Imperfect Solitude looks like a tourist guide to Ireland. I wasn’t particularly psyched about receiving it in the post, but it was the first novel in the little package that I decided to read because two words jumped out at me from the back cover: surfing and biology.

Writers who aren’t just writers are always an interesting find. Mr. Mahony is a biological consultant. Williams, as we know, was a doctor. I admire that. I think people do need an external life in order to be able to write, lest everything they write be just dreams. It’s is fine sometimes, it’s true, but reading about people who aren’t writers is always fun (looking your way Stephen King and John Irving).

Books about things are also an interesting find. So often modern literature is caught up with character and relationships, cause and effect. Imperfect Solitude, however, promises a glimpse into a world out of the ordinary, full of facts and figures, rituals with meanings different to the common lot.

And so, biologically speaking, and in terms of surfing as well, Mr. Mahony’s novel is great—exhilarating, even. Very few people seem to actually do any work in novels anymore, so this aspect of the narrative lends a realism to the work that some others would find difficult to obtain.

Reading-wise, however, after I got over my initial excitement about soil charting, the book would be good as a condensed version of the story. A book of a film of the story. There were beautiful landscape descriptions which landed you right there and then, but the rest of Imperfect Solitude was kind of akin to a plot summary. Which is a bad thing to have to say about a book I nevertheless enjoyed, but perhaps Mr. Mahony would be better suited to poetry that contained lyrical landscape description?

Official Tom Mahony Web Site
Official Casperian Books Web Site

A Review of “Poena Damni, Z213: EXIT” by Dimitris Lyacos, Translated by Shorsha Sullivan

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

Spencer Dew

We begin in what may be an internment camp, some complex, “four wards separate not far from the sea … and ashes spread out on the floor black stains and ashes … and next day in the morning they would come and take them from there and you could hear at that time they were going in and calling their names…” The vagueness of the prose style establishes the limits of this world and the concerns of the text. We have a camp, a train, soldiers, a Bible with notes inside, and we have encroaching darkness, the struggle to remember, the struggle of hiding, physical pain. A war, just ended or ongoing, shapes the experience as well. “Remnants of the very last attack” mark both the landscape and the prose, which yearns for “Human traces” in a wasteland of loss, lost memory. “Remember to write as much as I can,” we are told—a first person phrasing for the voice of the text, a shifting protagonist—“As much as I remember. So that I can remember,” and yet, this person forgets and, chronicles, in pieces, in poetic fragments and impressionistic prose, this very forgetting, the gap that opens between self and memory, self and world, self and other. “I think of you but not like before.” The man leaves the place of wards, pushes on, boards a train, travelling from one zone to another—“Cruel the evening again in the station and the train and another station, silent, and the train…”—but the main drama of this text is interior to this person fleeing, attempting to flee, forgetting, attempting to remember:

One by one all those that fled all those you left, pieces, pieces like ice breaking and falling in front of your feet. And it melts before you can move…. Cramp in the stomach, the usual. You cover your feet with the pullover, fall face down. Chilly berth that sticks to your face. You wear the pullover, under the jacket you put the Bible for a pillow. Her breast, her half-opened mouth. Some life. You unbutton your trousers put your hand in.

Thus, while travelling onward, there is a sense, of moving in a circle, a spiral even. Passing the same tree again and again, remembering the same woman, moving yet not making an exit, only sinking deeper, descending. “I try to stay awake. I wet my face with some water.” This retreat is not orderly, nor is the only violence here that of battle, of beatings and whatever bombs leave castles in ruins along the route of travel. “I have no painkiller,” our narrator says, in response to a pain in his foot but also to the larger problem, the journey, the attempt at exit.

And when you can no longer remember, just meaningless things here and there, and you can’t. But still try even then, as the twilight sets in, stand and look at the past, walk again along the corridors where your eyes used to wander, attentive ghosts, open the boxes, think of the other side of the wall. Sit at the side of the road and see yourself pass.

Z213: EXIT gives us not a conventional story but, rather, “a tale you remember unfinished.” Which is not to say that there is no drama, no danger, no desire.  There is even sex, or a memory of sex, maybe a dream of a memory in the process of its own erasure. At times in this hypnotic little book it feels as if everything exits except for our protagonist, whom, while in many ways mysterious, is also something we feel and thus know. The stream of his thoughts define our experience of the text:

they change, all things, memory changes, you change yourself, some woman you search for, you don’t know if you were seeking another, if you had some other hope, other aim. Tomorrow perhaps something else might erase those things as well, the new veil of the world, but you will never know it, you won’t be able to know it.

Of note, too, is the role this book plays in a larger trilogy (which I have not read). Last written but first in the series, simultaneously final installment and a prelude to the other parts, the role this book plays likely finds echo in its own obsessions with memory, loss, with exit and, indeed, beginning. One plot device, such as it is, present in this text is that of being pursued. There is an element of chase in all the travel, and, thus, a touch of paranoia, perhaps well justified, in some of the concern with memory. “Nobody is coming after me,” we’re told at one point.

Surely they have forgotten about me. Nobody will ever come here to find me. He will never be able to find me. Nobody ever. And when I fled they didn’t even realise. They took no notice of me no one cared no one remembers. Now they will remember neither when nor how. Not even I. Tracks only, a hazy memory and those images when I look at what I have written, tracks of footprints in the mud before it starts raining again. Uncertain images of the road and thoughts mumbled words, and if you read them without the names you won’t understand, it could have been anywhere, and then I spoke with no one and those who saw me no chance that they remember me.

Who is this “he” so central to the hunt? Herein lies, I think, a key to the text, to the real drama playing out in this slim volume, a drama of the phenomenon of writing itself, the drama that is textuality, the process of words, preserved, of voices, living on the page once long forgotten in the world of flesh. Considered in this light, the end of the book is already the beginning of something more, another loop back into memory, an urging for us to turn back to the beginning, those cold wards by the sea, and rechart the travels of this man, his notes, his memories, his forgettings. But in the context of a larger trilogy, this ending is, in another sense, the start of something more, an exit, perhaps, into deeper considerations of the phenomenology of the self as something written, that “I” as it slips into the alien third person on the page, becoming a “he” of a drama no longer the writer’s own. By tapping into—and engaging with such visceral detail, as the scraps and scrims of scenes here provide—this issue of how writing works on the most basic, universal level, Lyacos has created a book of real interest and reward. One such visceral tool is the second person—the “you” written by some “I,” some “he”—who becomes the protagonist, allowing us, as readers, to embody the place ourselves in the volume’s inconclusive end:

… you look behind and expect him, you get away again, you are drowsy, you close your eyes, you see him before you, you get away you are tired, mostly you stand, you close your eyes open them again, you don’t want to go any further, you shall sink to your knees, the tiredness hurts even more, you are less afraid, you are feeling the blow, you open your mouth, you look at his mouth, you don’t want to stand up any more.

Official Dimitris Lyacos Web Site
Official Shoestring Press Web Site