Saturday, November 15, 2014

They Talk About Death by Alessandra Bava

Published by Blood Pudding Press

Reviewed By:  A.J. Huffman

They Talk About Death, a chapbook by Alesandra Bava, pays subtle, elegant homage to the masters of misery.  In the title poem, “They Talk About Death,” Bava eloquently states “. . . you can almost/hear//them talk of the Pale/Rider as if they were/chatting about an old/acquaintance.”  Bava is, of course, referring to the influential Death writers and artists she tributes in this chapbook such as Sexton, Plath, Rimbaud, and Modigliani.  At the same time, Bava’s words could be describing her own chapbook, as that is exactly how she is talking about these authors—as if they were her dearest friends.

This series of poems welcomes us into the author’s parlor, pours us a cup of tea, and invites us into an inner circle of ghostly gossip.  We walk “into the hazy streets of Montparnasse” with Montigliani and is wife in “Never Thirty Seven,” as they contemplate the joys of pre-death:  their blossoming pregnancy, the potential of a son.  In “Our Lady of Napalm,” we grapple next to Sexton as she attempts to transfix her demons onto the poetic page:  “Imprisoned and tortured you type/on your bed of stone, as a/St. Barbara of Poetry.” 

Bava opens every vein she can find for us.  Nothing is off limits here, not even Plath’s suicide note.  Bava hauntingly echoes Plath’s desire to leave “. . . in the arms/of February, winds --” in the poem “Milk and Bread.”  And we as readers feel we are dangling in that cold wind, as page after page we are confronted with intimate portraits of death and despair. 

The ending of “Our Lady of Napalm” whispers Bava’s vivid mantra:  “Suicidal Light demands worship.”  This idea reverberates throughout the pages of this poetic church.  We read and worship as one, closing the pages with remorse and relief, as well as a revitalization of spirit that can only come from hanging on to the precipice of death, then crawling back onto solid ground.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Stick Up by Paul David Adkins

Published by Blood Pudding Press

Reviewed By:  A.J. Huffman

Stick Up, a chapbook by Paul David Adkins, manages to capture a lifetime of desperation—both successfully and compellingly—in a mere 21 pages of intense urban poetry. 

Adkins is a master of multiple perspectives in this tragic tale of an everyday convenience store robbery.  His use of an MTV-video-blip jump in points of view allows the reader to capture the scene as it plays out from three distinct speakers:  the robber, the hostages, and the police officers. 

This series is about loss, losing, and having nothing to lose.  The robber, a female whose long, hard life is exquisitely summed up by the current contents of her car—“a half-empty bottle/of Jack in the truck/and her wallet she stuffed/in the glove box/her creased AARP card/her license,/expired last month,/and a tucked photo/of the lover who left her,”—is someone we all know, is someone we could become.  She is closing in at the end of her life, and has come to a point where a fake gun and a chance to steal some potentially life-changing lottery tickets has become more palatable than continuing on her current path even one more day. 

A second point of view emerges from the purported heroes of this tale.  The police officers vacillate between the desire for action and the desire for safety as they “prayed/for a quiet night.  They prayed/for a night of gunfire.”  They struggle with the same indecision the average person deals with every day.  Is a long life of mundanity preferable to one lived quickly but in the extreme?  It is almost an uncomical moment of choice, the purpetual chance that lingers out there for all of us, the ghost of death whispering in our ear, Cancer or cut throat?, as if the outcome of both were not the same.

Finally, Adkins has his hostages contemplating dairy products along with their lives, as if they are the mirror images of each other.  In “He Considered the Dairy Products,” one of these hostages’ biggest concerns is “Will I die beside/the frozen yogurt light?”  Not ‘Will I die?’ but ‘Will I die here?’ as if logistics was a factor in the fight or flight decision in these potentially last moments of breath.  In “He Recalled as He Ran Back in the Store,” another hostage actually refuses an offered opportunity to escape because he is fascinated by the robber.  He sees her as the walking dead, a figure from a horror story he was told as a child:  “She emerged from the tree line,/tall beneath the floodlit/Coors display,/her shadow sharp/and stark as the chalked/outline of a corpse.”

‘Round and ‘round we go between these speakers as this literary Russian roulette of a merry-go-round ride spins us out of control and into this depraved and very human moment where there is no clear-cut victim or hero.  Every one of Adkins’ characters has flaws that are showing, and those flaws create an unbreakable bond of empathy that lures the reader to the edge of our seats, then dangles us there before an expected but powerful gunshot drop in “They Called for an Ambulance Though All Agreed”:  “there was no rush, no siren needed/for the robber, peppered,/dead amid the shards.”

Death, one of the universal inevitabilities, continues to linger on the horizon of this series just as surely as it landed on the floor in this convenience store, the blunt and bleeding culmination of humanity’s emotionally devastating choices.