With this issue The Chapbook Review will now be published quarterly.
The curator of David Peak’s Museum of Fucked has a thing for b-grade horror films. For his collection, he’s chosen ne’er-do-wells like crack addicts, homeless people, a blind man begging for change, a landlord who starves cats and dogs for pleasure, a woman with “burned out nostrils” with “rotten” teeth who claims her mother was Marilyn Monroe, and a desperate man swinging a baseball bat holding kids captive. Roaming Chicago’s mean streets, its “gray gentrified industrial neighborhoods,” its “people-packed, colorful shopping districts,” “hip neighborhoods filled with three-flats,” and the “dirty parts…with their broken glass and families,” they could easily be confused for the zombies of Dawn of the Dead and Night of the Living Dead (titles of two of Museum’s stories). The view of life here is encapsulated in two of the lines from these brutal short fictions:
“Human beings were never meant to be too comfortable.”
“God we’re all fucked, he says to someone on the other end of the line.”
Lonely Christopher signals the reader to the method of his madness, or madness of his method in “Still Life with Movement”: “The repetition of simple thoughts could be you when you know what to do.” His insistent lines have an affinity to Gertrude Stein’s and there’s a stuttering, faltering quality to the poems here that implore you to listen ever the more carefully. And there’s a jaunty rhythm to many of the lines. It is a disjunctive kind of music: “The Book of America”: “Do I go out do I do I go out the door I do I do I do I go out the door I do.” And the repetitive fragments become most intertwined in “Dumb Listening.”
With its “imagined gods” (a marvelous redundancy), prayers, proselytes, rites, rituals, and resurrections, its Sabbaths, sacred tablets, shrines, souls, and spirits, its meditations on grace, gratitude, acceptance, atonement, epiphany, alchemy, its psalms and choir, David Highsmith’s congregations creates a kind of religious atmosphere, one that floats somewhere in the shadowy realm between pagan and Christian.
& the sun still shining
blood poured out upon a new-sown field
communicants consume and illuminate their god
an animal slain, or so thought one
too young to know
just what we’re up against
Here Highsmith finds “no blood in a restful Sabbath,” and sees “in fire an endless prayer,” and a “figure stepping from water / to walk among the dead,” And mysterious moments predominate, like this one with its fragile intimations of new romance:
carved upon a table
although an act of love
made her spin her neck & head
what is it about you?
she wanted to ask him
all these doors & all these
windows & never enough
space & (looking around)
do you make all these
Speaking of religious atmospheres, Philip Kolin’s A Parable of Women, too, uses Christian imagery, albeit with less success. Here we’re offered “choired silence and / Cloistered flowers,” “Orange and yellow lights…flicker[ing] like votive candles,” “Judas kisses”; a woman with Sunday school tunes earwormed in her mind; and references to prayers, scales (chromatic ones) falling from eyes, and “proclamations of angels.” There’s an aria from Mary, Jesus’s Mother, and a lament from Hagar, whom God had exiled, along with her Abraham-fathered child Ishmael, to the wilderness. It’s evocative content notwithstanding, I found most of Kolin’s treatments flat and rather colorless.
Kolin can, however, draw a sympathetic portrait as in “Edith,” a poem about a woman stricken with illness, where that illness is personified:
I wanted a lover
And imitated every sigh
I heard in the cinema until
He came one night and took
The nom de plume of Pneumonia
Embracing me in a slow trance…
And he can create an arresting image. From “Moths”:
A palette of moths
Paints the glass
On the door
Embroidering a history of tongues,
A pity these luminous moments are as fleeting as those moths’ lives.
HOW TO TAKE YOURSELF APART, HOW TO MAKE YOURSELF ANEW, by Aaron Burch may be as much an instructional manual on mourning as it is a examination of the imagination. Emotions are carefully reined in by taut prose:
Draw diagrams of the imagination. Use detail, be intricate; don’t let uncertainty excuse lack of specificity. Once complete, destroy, dismantle, disassemble. Erase, rip, cut, break into pieces. Copy each small piece onto your body—cover hands, feet, arms, legs. A complete transfer, put the whole back together. Tie yourself in knots. Use folds, ripples, waves of yourself crashing into each other. Think of it, of yourself, as a complicated math equation: without one small detail, the formula doesn’t work. The sum adds up to the whole, or nothing.
The collection here, though much more than simply the sum of its parts, does grow in both coherence and cohesion by accretion, by way of its deliberate fragmentation, its picking up of the pieces, examining each one, and then puzzling them back together. Here and there Burch offers hints on how to piece his book together:
When stuck, lost, confused, frustrated: do as before. Don’t fear repetition. This can be used for other moments; use when needed. Use carbon paper, stencils, mirrors, projectors. Don’t forget the tools available to you. In fact, you may want to make note of these now for later, while you are thinking about them. Writing commits to memory and, when unsure, revert to rote.
I think the first thing I’ve ever read from Aaron Burch was “Molting” (itself released as a chapbook from Mud Luscious Press), and I was initially surprised, especially after all of the imperative sections, to find it in this collection. But, on further reflection, its fabulist and horrific departures (like the sawing off of hands) makes it nest comfortably among the rest of these instructions, tales, and vignettes.
While Dana Teen Lomax’s chapbook is entitled Disclosure, and includes copies of various “official” documents pertaining to her like a nomination letter from the Peace Corps, a “Work and Earning Summary,” a checking account statement,” etc., what immediately came to mind as I read it was what was left undisclosed. Another version of this book included in Kenneth Goldsmith’s anthology Publishing the Unpublishable has a more accurate title: Disclosure: (an excerpt), and, while it includes x-rays of her teeth, a letter from a credit collection agency, a copy of her driver’s license, and the like, it still is only a disclosure in part. Flipping or clicking through these documents, I thought about how much paper we all have trailing behind us, the sheer ephemerality of it all, and confirmed for me the monumental meaningless these labelings of authority truly are.
In this issue, you’ll find reviews of all the abovementioned chapbooks, and interviews with Aaron Burch, Mike Heppner, and Catherine Kasper.
Special thanks our reviewers: Matt DeBenedictis, Anne C. Fowler, Steven Karl, Janey Smith, and J.A. Tyler; and our interviewers: Josh Maday, J.A. Tyler, and John Dermot Woods.