Garden-of-Stars

I'm a proud bibliophile and read almost anything I can get my hands on, and am always looking for new book recommendations. When not reading I'm writing poetry or working on a new art project.

Queen of Hearts

Queen of Hearts - Colleen Oakes

Either I've grown out of YA fiction, or my patience and forgiveness for it has diminished over the past couple of years. It also doesn't help how many Wonderland retellings I've seen, which made "Queen of Hearts" already a tough sell. But sometimes a nice easy read sounds appealing, which I thought this would end up being. And it was easy - easy to skim through and get distracted from, because while there's certainly a lot of text describing events and presenting dialogue, it all stayed on the surface as a dry cardboard-cutout.

I'll give the book credit for trying to present a different identity of the Mad Hatter, who happened to be the only character I cared even a little for. Considering how vague and up in the air the "plot" was, the characters were the default focal point for attention. Even then, Dinah was unlikable and difficult to feel any empathy for, whereas too little was known about any of the other characters, particularly the king, Wardley, and Vittiore, all of which fit the stereotypes of the cruel-for-no-known-reason father, the hot and drool worthy guy who's been a friend from childhood, and the girl who's a rival for power and who is hated by the heroine for, also, no clear or entirely believable reason. There's also the familiar cast of Wonderland characters like Cheshire who are slotted in just to satisfy the criteria of having them in the story - it is, after all, a spin on "Alice in Wonderland.  The classification of the Cards was the only other interesting aspect that altered the original story, but it did little in redeeming the book.

The "plot" was a mixture of loose threads thrown around that was more like sketchy exposition in a prequel style than any kind of coherent story. The writing lacked the alluring tone of voice that would draw a reader in, instead dry and stereotypical in the way in described characters or events. It was a book that was driven more by the unappealing heroine than by plot, although the former was surely the goal.

Beyond that there isn't much more to say. The fact that it was easy to get through felt like a small mercy considering how frustrating it felt to read it. I think I won't be touching any more Wonderland retellings after this one, as "Queen of Hearts" set a new low in the genre. It simultaneously had characters and action going on, but also lacked both of those things tremendously. It was predictable and boring, worse than I feared it might be. It looks like, with the immense about of takes on Wonderland, it is slowly losing its magical touch, which is probably a sign that it's time for publishing companies to stop churning out more dime-a-dozen books because they think they'll sell.

THe Dragon Behind the Glass

The Dragon Behind the Glass: A True Story of Power, Obsession, and the World's Most Coveted Fish - Emily Voigt

**This review first appeared in Alternating Review's online review column The Coil**

 

I stopped to look at the row of pure white arowana swimming in ghostly parallel, like marble replicas of fish that had been dead for millennia, and asked the guard how much they were worth. He shrugged and said, “To someone who doesn’t like them, they’re worth nothing.”

(Chapter 4 — Aquarama, p. 55)

 

Despite being an avid fiction reader, there might occasionally be a nonfiction book that catches my eye, usually on a non-conventional topic as opposed to yet another book on a well-known political figure or historical event. When I walked past The Dragon Behind the Glass: A True Story of Power, Obsession, and the World’s Most Coveted Fish in a bookstore, it was its simple but promising cover that attracted my attention, instantly leading to a question: what is the world’s most coveted fish? Knowing next to nothing about the aquarium hobby, never having owned a fish myself, the promise of intrigue and adventure the byline elicited was quite enticing.

 

The Dragon Behind the Glass is a perfect example of nonfiction that is capable of balancing the informative with the narrative, spinning a delightful narrative that conveys the sense of adventure without emphasizing the fact that you, the reader, are sitting in the comfort of a chair as opposed to trudging through the Amazon like Voigt. The book follows the rise to popularity of the arowana fish, coveted in Asia as a symbol of luck, particularly the Super Red variety which is sought by the Chinese. Voigt presents both the scientific backstory of the fish and parallels it directly with her own travels around the world, her correspondences with famous ichthyologists, as well as some fascinating and well-integrated digressions about other wildlife and the history of the aquarium hobby as a whole.

 

Voigt’s quest that initially begins out of curiosity quickly takes a turn for obsession, the risk and difficulty factor constantly rising as she is determined to first travel in search of the Super Red, then to chase after a living specimen of a mysterious and arguably new species of arowana, and finally to end up in the depths of the Amazon to find the less-prestigious yet still fascinating silver variant. Voigt acknowledges this slip in her motives, raising the question of what it is about the fish that leads people to act irrationally, a sentiment that is captured almost at the very beginning in the words of Lieutenant Fitzpatrick:

 

“I think that a lot of the people who have these animals are interested in nature, and that, in and of itself, is not a bad thing,” he said. “It’s just they’re going about it the wrong way.”

(Chapter 1— The Pet Detective, p. 15).

 

It’s a soft side to journalism that I haven’t seen yet when it comes to nonfiction, particularly books on biology, which tend to focus much more on assembling and regurgitating facts that, however fascinating, nonetheless remain facts. Voigt instead gives science a more human touch, reminding readers that a journalist, too, has emotions and can be swayed in a particular direction. In fact, her own voice is so dominant in the book that it tiptoes the line between being both autobiographical and historical, a reminder that science doesn’t merely exist in the past that textbooks have immortalized. Rather, it continues to exist and to be made right this very second, both by the scientists who make the discoveries, the journalists who document them, and the masses who respond to these new findings.

 

I didn’t expect as much tenderness from The Dragon Behind the Glass as I ended up finding, but it was a discovery that was both pleasant and welcome. It was an example of art and science coexisting within the pages of one book, emotions and rational thinking woven into one fascinating narrative that becomes not so much focused on the fish itself as on how humans interact with nature, and the lessons we should be taking out of it in our correct society.

The Big Book of Exit Strategies

The Big Book of Exit Strategies - Jamaal May Sometimes you read such a good poetry collection that you wish you could pull specific fragments and words from it and form a necklace out of them that you'd wear daily, proudly showing it off to everyone on the street so that they, too, can run and read it from curiosity. May has exceeded his own magic and magnificence in this collection, and poems like "As the Saying Goes", "The Gun Joke", "Little Design", and "To Detroiters I Too May Have Called By the Wrong Names" are the perfect example of this. Each poem is quotable and memorable, the writing light, engaging, with a natural rhythm to it that is easy to get lost in. Finishing it was very much like waking up on a cold December morning and loathing the fact that you have to get out of the warm bed and go to work. It's just too good to put down.

Dirty Pretty Things

Dirty Pretty Things - Michael Faudet

**This review first appeared in The Alternating Review's online review column The Coil**

As the medium of poetry continues to evolve, one particular style has been gaining popularity among readers on the Internet, a genre that has been unofficially dubbed ‘Tumblr poetry’ by fans and critics alike. This ‘8-bit wisdom’ is a perfect example of the struggle between the desire to rewrite the rigid, conservative boundaries of poetry and the continued notions of what aspects such as form and subject matter should be like. This genre is somewhat hit or miss, though one worth paying attention to, particularly because it is almost impossible to overlook. There are some rather big names circulating in the publishing industry that have gone from being unknown writers, to having built an image and massive following for themselves. One such writer is Michael Faudet.

Faudet’s first collection, Dirty Pretty Things, is more of a pseudo-poetry collection, made up of poems, fragments, one-liners, and a few longer ‘short stories,’ all in one. Focusing on the familiar topics of love, lust, loss, and the search for comfort and home, the collection establishes itself right away as intimate in a slightly different manner, speaking less to the reader than it does to the author’s past self, the lovers and events that have left a mark.

It isn’t a surprise, therefore, that the mention of kissing and sex is the most common throughout the poems. And for the first quarter of the book or so, there were some simple but touching lines on both of these topics, striking in their honesty as they declared how

Kisses dream of lips like yours. (“Lips,” p. 11).

The writing gives off a naïve and hopeful sort of vibe, at least in the beginning: the sorts of emotions I always look for in a book, the kind that make me become engrossed in it and curious to see what would happen next. And that is exactly what the beginning of this collection made me feel.

The wonder ended up being short-lived. I eventually ended up keeping a tally of how many times the words “panties” and “fuck” were showing up, or how many times I was reading about the same rain motif and unmade beds. The simplicity can only go so far until it begins to border on limited, which was the ultimate conclusion I made about the collection. The one-line pieces stopped being charming after a certain point, instead capturing a thought that seemed obvious and unnecessary to put in such blatant terms, the words taking away any possibility of engaging with the work. It became, with every following page, more like a diary of a hormonal teenager who was desperate to have sex in order to cover up the inner turmoil. The topic is so common that to present it in such an elementary fashion no longer sets the work apart from the other contemporary ‘Tumblr poets,’ arranging words into simple and often awkward lines and strange stanzas in order to, for the nth time, tell a lover to take off her cotton panties and bend over.

What I think Dirty Pretty Things is most suited for, is perhaps a kind of literary foreplay with a lover — The contents certainly feel no shame in the matter. But when it comes to recollecting a memorable piece, I can only think of “The Mermaid” which, in its premise, is yet another story of a mermaid and young man falling in love, managing nonetheless to be sweet in its wording and sentiment. These are poems best read out loud to either a significant other or to someone for whom one feels the stirrings of love. They are neither memorable nor unique, some of them a bit ridiculous and still others coming close to losing their genuineness. It is only the occasional startling line that slightly redeems this otherwise run-of-the-mill collection, a tiny, persistent voice still fighting to remind us that

Love and loss share the same unmade bed. (“Reality,” p. 17).

The Oresteia

The Oresteia: Agamemnon / The Libation Bearers / The Eumenides - Aeschylus, Robert Fagles, William Bedell Stanford

This was one of those works where I really wish my professor had covered it better in class so that I could fully appreciate it. We had a two hour quick summary-like breeze through all three plays, with more focus being given to "Agamemnon" than the other two, so my judgement of the work was based more on how engaging I found it to be as an individual reading experience rather than as a classical work of literature that has been studied and discussed. There is quite a lot to pick out of "The Oresteia" that might be a bit overwhelming, as I found it to be, and the lack of guidance and confusion of what to pay attention to and what to make of some of the passages can be an obstacle. Probably with some more time and rereads that won't be necessary, but if one looks and evaluates this just as a piece of literature to sit down with and read, "The Oresteia" is quite the rollercoaster in terms of plot, and leaves a rather mixed impression on what to make of it.

Blood Season

Blood Season - Claire Meadows

**This review first appeared in Alternating Current's online column The Coil**

The best type of poetry, I find, is one that achieves emotional reaction without coming across like it’s lecturing away at you, the kind that feels more like a natural sort of journey rather than a start-stop with every poem. Blood Season is commendable in its attempt to convey emotional distress in the simplest and most honest way possible, yet it leaves the impression of being clumsy and overly angsty more than anything else.

The poems are characterized by a first-person speaker, maintaining a constant conversation not only with an unknown lover or a friend or family member, but also aiming to guide the reader along with the characters through the emotional turmoil. The poems are urgent, a balance between pleading and accusatory, with some rather biting lines:

Children love with violence, and you, with your inhibition
Were my only child. I could never need another.
(“To the Lions,” p. 16).

Other than a few memorable lines, some of which stay in the mind not so much due to the imagery as to the sheer power of the voice, the overall impression of Blood Season is mixed, and it is at this stage that the intentions must be separated from the actual finished product. The simple wording may appeal to some readers, yet struck me more as meandering at times, stating the obvious in lines like the following:

Nectar for dignity, tomorrow, it will be in my head. Not like
The truth. Truth is only an alternative to a lie, after all.
(“Intimate”, p. 19)

The surrounding words ended up becoming more like padding around these lines, pulling the spotlight onto themselves and making it difficult to feel the words rather than simply to read them.

The structure of the poems was another aspect that drew attention to itself, bringing out the editorial eye that made it difficult to read and focus on the significance of the words. Instead, commas and line breaks became the subject of questions and occasional inner debates. In fact, I struggle now with mentioning any specific poem from the collection, instead able to recall how frequently I questioned line breaks or choice of phrasing.

Blood Season will most likely be one of the hit-and-miss kind of collections — there’s no harm in attempting it, but it will most likely not amaze with masterful imagery or wordplay, or even with its subject matter. Honesty and good intentions, on the other hand, it has quite a bit of, which does make up for the lack of the former a bit. It’s a collection to be left up to personal taste, the kind that will probably serve as a cleanse for the reading palate before moving on to something more complex and emotional.

The Time Machine

The Time Machine - H.G. Wells, Patrick Parrinder, Steven McLean, Marina Warner

I'm glad my first experience with Wells was such a positive one. Despite its shortness, "The Time Machine" is packed both with plot, description, as well as philosophical and self-reflective musings in one tight package. It was beautifully and chillingly visual, and terrifying due to everything it implied and proposed. I can only hope that, if I ever end up haunting the earth as a ghost after my death, it'll be a slightly less terrifying revelation that the Time Traveler's jump even further beyond, towards what may have been the last moment before the disappearance of existence itself.

Glitter

Glitter - Aprilynne Pike

I feel like some authors are better suited for writing one literary hit, one good single or even individual book that will become their mark in the publishing world. Everything they write beyond that comes no where near that, either because they’ve had the taste of fame and want to prolong it, or they were pressured into it. These are the kinds of authors whose books you keep reading but now find yourself whispering for them to please stop writing into the pages, because the magic is gone and what’s left is a hot mess.

 

I sadly find myself feeling this way about Aprilynne Pike, whose “Wings” series was wonderful and memorable, touching and sweet in a way I didn’t see before in YA. In a way, it was one of my coming-of-age series. When reading the summary for “Glitter” I was certain I’d enjoy it. It felt like a mix between a dystopia and historical fiction according to the summary, and if there’s one thing that I can’t say no to then it’s an apocalyptic take on Marie Antoinette set in the future.

 

What I ended up finding, however, was an incredible mess of plot and character that can only be interpreted as ‘the author said so, so it shall be’. It can only go so far to create a world or a scenario if it then doesn’t fit in with the rest of the world being created, or if it’s a tiny bubble within a vast sea of neglected things, as is the case in “Glitter”. The book begins with a prologue that jumps right into the main issue of the book, though the reader doesn’t quite know it yet. It takes a few chapters to learn about Danica’s predicament, how she is to be wed to the King all because her mother is blackmailing him. She is desperate enough to get out of the palace that she gets in contact with a dealer of the drug “glitter” in Paris, deciding to establish a brand of cosmetics that includes this drug within it and addicting the court to it, while using the money she gathers from it to buy a new identity and escape, all for the price of 5 million.

 

There were so many things wrong with this book that the only reason why I felt it was 2 stars was because the writing style was at least easy to follow, and it was easy to skip over chunks at times when events got too dull yet still be able to keep up with what’s going on. The main problem lay with Danica herself, an all-around unlikable character from the beginning. The reader is being convinced that Danica is trying to fight the system, that she hates what’s going on, but there is never a clear backbone to her that would actually show this. She easily slips into societal prattle and, at times, even sinks to the same petty level when she begins insulting ladies of the court. Her decision to sell addicting and dangerous cosmetics to raise money for her escape works as a plot point, but is ridiculously immoral if one thinks about what that says about a person. Literature has had characters who’ve risked their lives to run away and save loved ones, who’ve come up with elaborate and clever plans, yet our dear Danica is perfectly content with putting at risk the lives of hundreds of people just to get out and save her skin. For some this might not be a problem, and I’m sure some readers will say it’s just a book and brush it off. But if one actually stops to consider the moral aspect of Danica’s character then it’s difficult to swallow and go along with.

 

Another similarly perturbing plot point, though a much smaller one, is the actual reason why Danica’s mother blackmails the king into becoming engaged with her, and this is the fact that he strangled his lover in the middle of sex. It’s worrisome that this method of creating a “plot twist”/conflict in the story seems to be appearing more frequently lately (a recent episode of “Westworld” also featured it), and again, I wonder where one draws the line at ridiculous plot points that, yes, move the story along and make sense as gears in the general mechanism, but raise eyebrows at the social and moral implications of said actions.

 

The actual futuristic/sci-fi/dystopia/historical fiction element of this book is another category all of its own, as the book doesn’t really fit into any of these categories. The M.A.R.I.E system is very weak in the book and could’ve been much more developed, hence failing to make it sci-fi. Though the events happen in the future the whole tiny universe of Versailles seems to function in a rather backwards fashion, trying to mesh the other three categories into one. The general explanation is this: a rich company had enough money and wanted to buy Versailles and resurrect the monarchy, and so it did. The book decides to focus on this premise and act as if the rest of the world doesn’t exist, although the tiny bubble of the plot, again, feels a bit ridiculous if one considers that it’s very much just a bunch of people who decide to create an alternate universe and stick with it.

 

I’m not entirely sure who this book was written for, or what one was meant to feel after finishing it. Yes, there are some wonderful descriptions of clothing and setting, but these only go so far until the gossip of courtly politics and Danica’s complaining get in the way. It’s a book that checks off many of the boxes in the YA genre: a young girl who thinks she’s rebelling against the system and is different but really isn’t, a cruel mother who forces said girl to do things that she says will benefit her but don’t actually, an alpha male who the girl is forced to be with, and a world that’s so enamored with its own existence that it doesn’t do much to make the reader feel welcome in it. Throw in some questionable moral decisions and you’ve got “Glitter”. The only redeeming part is, as mentioned earlier, the writing style, which at least makes this a relatively fast and simple read that can be a good palette cleanser between more engaging and less problematic books.

Wasps in a Golden Dream Hum a Starnge Music

Wasps in a Golden Dream Hum a Strange Music - Asher Ghaffar

**This review was first published in Alternating Current's online column The Coil*

 

The snowy owl unfurls
its wings, swoops down
on the field mouse. The mouse squirms,
releases into a need larger than itself.

(“Mother,” p. 23)

 

Despite the fact that poetry and culture are frequently positioned as going hand in hand, there are still some cultures that seem to be shot directly into the forefront, while others await their chance. Wasps in a Golden Dream Hum a Strange Music is a collection that touches upon the immigrant experience, not so much addressing the process of coming to Canada as reaching out to bring about memories of India and Pakistan, demonstrating how the past can bleed into the present in a way that transcends any sort of assimilation.

 

Yet the poems of the collection are just as restless as the wasps, flitting around in an inconsistent pattern that frequently leaves the reader with a dizzying sensation. The collection is broken up into five sections, five “tion”s, starting off with a heavy focus on culture and tradition to set the tone. The second poem of the collection, “The Master Bedroom,” does this spectacularly, displaying its cold, sharp tongue in just a few simple yet biting lines:

 

He is getting married, so the painters
arrived, or his mother is getting married
because she is arranging his marriage.

(p. 5).

 

The first quarter of the collection had me searching for these kinds of memorable and saturated lines, though the main problem in the collection lay, I found, in this very same way of phrasing it: the need “to search.” Where the first quarter of the collection was more grounded to the synopsis of the book, afterward the poems seemed to scatter in every direction. There was hardly any grounding point that could keep me focused on where the collection was going, and if with the more “traditional” verse poems this was manageable, then the prose poems of this collection proved to be a different sort of beast.

 

The poem “The New Sentence” was a mix between those two, retaining some traditional poetic elements, though its voice resembled poetic prose. It was one of the few that stood out and remained memorable, showing what the collection was truly trying to get at: the shifting times and mass fear that are slowly creeping in, doing so by reminding just who stands at the very center of these machinations:

 

Chapter one is usually white.

Chapter one is usually male.
Chapter one is usually middle-class.

(p. 37).

 

Progressing further through the poems, however, it becomes difficult to focus and follow along, the prose poems becoming longer and truly more “prose” than “poem.” Ghaffar loses that pointedness that characterizes the beginning and instead seems to throw everything in all at once, requiring quite a bit of patience to work through. They reminded me of a professor who was so engaged and interested in his own topic that he’s trailed off, delving down into several layers of analysis without bringing his students along, as well, having left them to frantically scamper along. That is how a majority of Wasps in a Golden Dream Hum a Strange Music made me feel — On one hand, these are poems written by someone who is clearly knowledgeable and determined in finding ways of expressing these visions, playing with words to achieve the desired effect. On the other hand, there is an overbearing quality to these poems, a certain heaviness that makes them difficult to keep up with and, sometimes, to connect to. They create a barrier between themselves and the reader and remain contained in their own wordplay. They emit a strange sort of music, indeed, one that I found a bit too much for my taste.

Utopia

Utopia - Thomas More, Paul Turner

It's nice to finally have something concrete to associate with the term "utopia" beyond just the typical fantastical ravings of the curious mind. Both thought provoking and fascinating to consider in terms of what this work is as a work of fiction, "Utopia" falls somewhere between easy and difficult in terms of reading, partly due to More's writing style. The writing does occasionally feel extraneous and meandering in an unnecessary way, but the ideas which More puts forth are as interesting as they are fun to think about at times. Some passages, like the way in which Utopians consider gold and jewels to be trinkets for children, how they adorn their slaves with it because they believe that, since there isn't an abundance of these things on earth, then they aren't necessary for everyday life (which is quite true). It was also quite beneficial to read and discuss this for an actual class, so that these ideas could be grounded using theory and modern examples. It's particularly pertinent to read this now, both to see how our conception of what a utopia has changed over time, but also to compare and see if our modern society has achieved in checking any of these things off the list in its (frequently failed) attempts at being better.

The Aeneid

The Aeneid - Virgil, Bernard Knox, Robert Fagles

Virgil, you shameless shameless flatterer who clearly paid VERY close attention to Homer's writing (a bit TOO close, in some places). "The Aeneid", in its sadly incomplete form of only 12 books out of the 40 Virgil planned on writing, is very much a sandwich, dare I say even "fan fiction"-like, version of the Odyssey and the Illiad. Considering that I enjoyed only one of those two (I'm still trying to force my way through the Illiad), it's no surprise that the first six books I thought were wonderful, whereas the remaining six were almost painful to get through.

Our TA asked us today during class how we can interpret "The Aeneid" in relation to what's going on right now politically, and when no one said anything she rephrased it by asking us what we think the point is in reading literature at a time when fascism is rising all around us. It was disheartening to see almost all my classmates laugh at this question, for there is quite a bit that can be taken out and looked at in this book, particularly the trope of destiny and glory of future Rome which Aeneas pursues, and the role which women occupy in this general narrative. It's amazing to see how cyclical history really is, and how things may change slightly in terms of details while the overarching ideas and themes remain the same. It's why reading classics is still pertinent, to remind us that just like we still don't know how to necessarily interpret a text that's been written centuries ago, we also don't know how to react to the present in its immediacy.

Hummingbird

Hummingbird - John Wall Barger

"Hummingbird" is a slightly deceptive yet beautiful collection that will fool the occasional reader by its initially dainty title and elegant cover. The back cover blurb was why I picked this one up, sold on the idea that the poems will explore the aggressive side of this unusual bird, at the same time including aspects of the definitions and associations from the various cultures that are mentioned in the summary.

Barger didn't fail my expectations. From the opening poem "A Start", the reader is propelled into a fast track, survival-like pace of poetry that doesn't stop escalating, even though it slightly changes tactics around the third section. While these poems are quite simple in their expression, their willingness to bear their insides for examination by a total stranger are impressive. When references are made to people, cultural notions, or other sources, they are integrated so seamlessly that the jumps from the personal to the more "academic" realm is barely felt.

This collection will take one both all around the world on the outside as well as the inside. Pay special attention the titular poem "Hummingbird" in this regard. Taking up 10 pages in the collection it is a literary feat and feels like jumping onto a roller coaster after having eaten too much candy - terrifying but oh so worth it.

"Hummingbird" stands out in the sea of modern poetry both with its honesty and savage elegance, unforgiving yet simultaneously gentle on the wounds it inflicts in the first place.

Don't Let It End Like This Tell Them I Said Something

Don't Let It End Like This Tell Them I Said Something by Vermeersch, Paul (2014) Paperback - Paul Vermeersch

**this review was first published in Alternating Current's online review column The Coil**

It’s not
their place to hear our prayers. Instead,
they heed the prayers of shrikes, and the shrikes’
saviour is a mouse impaled on a thorn, and
the Messiah of the mouse is the unsweepable
crumb, and the god of that crumb is the ant,
delving in spongiform pathways, scissor-faced
and legion.

(“Magog — 5,” p. 15)

The past several years saw a rise in the popularity of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic literature, mainly in the realm of the novel. Poetry, on the other hand, has mostly continued to explore the inner realm of human emotions. Up until now, that is. Paul Vermeersch’s collection, Don’t Let It End Like This Tell Them I Said Something, is just as movingly painful to read as its title — taken from the dying words of Pancho Villa — suggests, combining the novel approach to presenting the apocalypse with poetry’s continued fascination in the human condition. The result is a startling series of poems that successfully weaves its way through several time frames, presenting both the extreme apocalypse seen in movies, as well as taking the time to point out the seeds of chaos already ingrained in our society.

The collection is divided into six sections, the title of each one just as startling as the collection title. Moving through them creates a feeling of wading through time, in and out of the present moment, until the timeframe becomes hazy. Vermeersch interchangeably explores both personal and social destruction, convincingly demonstrating how the two coexist. The societal apocalypse side of the poems is filled with familiar imagery of ruined buildings, metal, and a general sense of erosion, presented in such a way that it’s easy to forgot all the clichéd associations with the genre, instead feeling like the movement has only recently occurred, that it is still only beginning to cover the vast territory of possibility.

I personally preferred the inner apocalypse much more, best captured, I found, by the following lines:

You will discover, again, apricots, and again
disappointment.

(“The Palace of Eternal Youth,” p. 40).

The poems in this ‘category’ point out, arguably, everything that is ‘wrong’ with us as humans, yet do so in a way that allows for the reader to connect back to himself, going in search of memories and experiences that bring about a natural empathy and process of analysis that is by no means forced. Poems worth singling out are “They Will Take My Island,” in which the speaker is sitting on an island and pondering the fact that all his past loves and current one will come and conquer him, emotionally and physically, as well as the poem, “I Became Like a Wooden Ark the Lives of Animals Filled Me”. (Vermeersch has a noticeable love of long titles, which are both mesmerizing and always appropriate to the work itself.) The latter is a poem that rapid-fires one brilliant line after another, resulting in both a state of being emotionally overwhelmed but also of feeling enlightened despite the bruising experiences. It’s astounding that lines such as this:

This is an apple. Grenade, I said.
This is a bird. Interceptor, I said.

and this:

One day my clothes didn’t fit,
so they cast me out.

(“I Became Like a Wooden Ark the Lives of Animals Filled me — 2,” p. 42)

can be found on the same page. There is a heap of segments that are quotable for a variety of reasons, constantly reaffirming the fact that Vermeersch is a poet both in tune with the concept but also who knows which words will capture it perfectly, always choosing ones that are ripe for the picking.

One of the other things that stood out about this collection was Vermeersch’s willingness to experiment with form, to pick pieces from other sources and sew them together into a sort of life raft for the reader that would guide him along on the perilous journey. The section “On the Reintegration of Disintegrated Texts: A Manual for Survivors” was a perfect example of this — part musings, part writing prompts, and entirely experimentation and clever imagination. I found myself poring over it the longest, sometimes even taking the time to try writing in my head the kind of poem that the ‘prompts’ proposed.

Don’t Let It End Like This Tell Them I Said Something, taking its name from the last couple lines of the very last poem in the collection, doesn’t need to worry about being forgotten anytime soon. It’s a collection that is both down to earth and prophetic, dirty and hopeful, but always entirely honest and wickedly witty.

Omens in the Year of the Ox

Omens in the Year of the Ox - Steven Price

It was hard to resist buying this book at a local publishing fair last month considering how much the woman I spoke to praised this collection. The ratings were also quite high and the title held much promise - I admit to having quite a weakness to astrology- and in general cosmology-related themes.

"Omens in the year of the Ox" was not what I expected but not in an entirely bad way. In fact it proved to have a certain depth that I didn't expect to it, beginning with the structure and general style of the collection. It can be best described by using the analogy of going to a fortune teller and asking to be told your future - the process is long and mystical, with occasional gaps and faults in understanding, but there nonetheless remains a quality of the surreal and otherworldly even to the scenarios that feel like they're mundane. The result is confusion that is still confident that there is something deep inside that holds the proper explanation, though perhaps it might not be accessible just yet.

These poems are very much like that. Some are more straight forward, like the ones which build upon the known characters of Medea, Icarus, and Odysseus. Others serve to create a sense of ambience, such as the series of Chorus poems or the couple of "Curses" poems. Most of the others require a more "off to the side" approach, as they initially come across as something quite common to the point of fooling the reader. These poems take time and several rereads, as well as patience, but they hold promise as well as a cleverness that is worth listening to. Those who were able to tune into that voice right away have certainly spoken to that already, yet for those who might struggle with it this collection will, doubtless, still prove memorable and worthy of revisiting over time, existing like an itch in the conscience that one must attend to.

Lost Gods

Lost Gods: A Novel - Brom

Some books have a very slow first 50-100 pages, after which the pace picks up to the point where it makes one relieved to have kept reading. With "Lost Gods", the entire book had that sluggish and description-saturated writing that make the process of reading feel like something being doing through force rather than enjoyment. Which is a shame, considering the book has potential, but will also appeal to some readers.

The only conclusion I can make with any certainty is that this book isn't for me. From the beginning it felt like a cross between fantasy, mythology, and horror, leaning more towards a latter in a way that just isn't part of my personal tastes. It was hard to connect with Chet, or any of the characters really, because the lengthy exposition and slow pacing of the story took up much of the energy in order to just focus on what was happening. The trope of going down to the underworld is a common one and didn't do much to impress me, though the ideas of gods being forgotten and existing in the world beyond was quite an interesting one, particularly because of the way the story mixes a variety of mythologies into one.

Despite that the only impression I had of the book was that it was quite dull, and a little uncomfortable in its details and writing style at times. For some people this will be appealing, but I'm certainly not Brom's target audience. My lack of experience with his work is another disadvantage, as I didn't know what to expect when picking this up. It'll be either a hit or a miss depending on personal taste. For me it missed the mark and won't be sticking in the memory for long.

Rue

Rue - Melissa Bull

Some poetry collections you can't put down because the content is just so good that the desire to see what the next poem does is overwhelming. With "Rue", its not only that kind of reaction, but it's also the inability and unwillingness to break out of the addictive, fast-paced rhythm of the work.

Bull tells a story about a city without following the typical conventions, and without making it feel like a typical, and rather lengthy, story that one has to stay awake and listen to out of necessity. The poems make it easy to stay awake, like an injection of caffeine that then sets you off on a journey not only geographically but also through the life of a speaker who frequently comes very close to confusing the reader on where the poet's identity begins and ends in the speaker's voice. The poems are personal and alluring, heavily melancholic without being melodramatic about it. Instead they're witty and capable of retaining the attention, darting around corners in a chase that is like chasing after the book equivalent of the white rabbit.

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