Sunday, May 3, 2015

Book Review: Inhuman, by Joshua Gage

I've had this book for a year or so now, but haven't been able to find the time to read it until this week.  Zombies have invaded popular culture for a while now, and there's plenty of zombie poetry to be found.  Some of it is good, and some of it is crap that people are just throwing out there to try to make money.  Inhuman: Haiku from the Zombie Apocalypse is a strong collection of zombie poetry that can stand with the best of them.

Inhuman is a small chapbook of zombie poems, written by Joshua Gage.  It's almost pocket-sized (5.5" x 8.5") and it's only 36 pages long.  The book is broken into four sections: Genesis, Outbreak, Invasion, and Survival.

The haiku in this book paint a vivid picture of how the zombie apocalypse begins.  Gage shows you exactly what takes place, in stark snapshots of terror and confusion.

open grave
the moonlight glistens
on coffin splinters

Some of the poems bring the scenes into focus, while others are jagged action shots.  All are good, and make this an outstanding collection.

subway doors
the stretch of its skin
before it rips free

There are far too many good poems to list or describe them all here.  Gage is a master poet, using the haiku form effectively.  Punctuation is minimal, letting the images speak for themselves.  The haiku are spread out enough that they don't seem crowded on the page.

The book includes poems that have been published in journals and magazines, including Fear and Trembling, Niteblade, Scifaikuest, and more.  There is an excellent introduction by Deborah P. Kolodji that discusses both zombie poetry in general and this collection in particular.

Inhuman: Haiku from the Zombie Apocalypse is #18 in The Poet's Haven Author Series, published in May 2013.  It sells for $6 on both the Poet's Haven website and Amazon.com.  It is well worth the price.  Inhuman is the best collection of zombie haiku I've read.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Book review: Amidst, by Jerome Cushman

Many fine books of haiku have been published in English over the last century or so.  So many, in fact, that it's hard for one of them to stand out from the rest.  However, Jerome Cushman's recent collection of haiku, Amidst, does a good job of breaking away from the pack.

Amidst is filled with simple, unassuming, yet profound haiku.  Some of them capture a fleeting but sincere moment:

warm spring
young deaf lovers
sign in the moonlight


while others bring to light the tension and anticipation of an ordinary day:

still waiting --
the spider on the ceiling
and I


The poems are accessible and easy to read, but they aren't easy to forget.  Amidst is not a book that you read and then put aside or give away.  The poems in the book will stay with the reader for a long time, and they lend themselves well to a second or third reading somewhere down the road.  One of the best haiku in the book illustrates the the idea of yin and yang, give and take, and it makes you wonder why if horses can understand it, so many humans can't seem to grasp it:

two horses
head to tail
swishing flies

 
Amidst is very nicely printed and produced by cafĂ© nietzsche press (which is a part of bottle rockets press).  Stanford M. Forrester is responsible for the editing and the graphic design, and Dennis W. Burns provides the brushwork that appears throughout the book.  The book is pocket-sized with a cardstock cover, and each of the 42 haiku (and the one haibun) is given its own page.  The collection's title comes from a Cid Corman haiku, which is included at the beginning of the book.

Cushman writes in an unencumbered everyman kind of way.  His haiku seem to just flow out of the moment, rather than sound like they've been workshopped and polished to death.  There is still plenty of life left in these poems.

Amidst was published in 2007 and it is 53 pages long.  It would make a good addition to any haiku reader's bookshelf, and it's a great collection to take with you on the go.  The book can be hard to find, but FoundryBooks.com has it right now for $9.00.

(Originally published on Helium.com, September 2010)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Book Review: Wish I Could Dance, by Larry L. Fontenot

Wish I Could Dance is a collection of 21 poems by Texas poet Larry L. Fontenot.   The poems are all short -- most run between half a page and a page -- and, according to the 2008 Texas Poet Laureate, Larry D. Thomas, they are "infused with the glow of profundity."

Fontenot is no novice poet.  In 2000 he won the Alsop Review Poetry Competition, and he has had poems published in Poet's Canvas, Red River Review, and the now-defunct Sulphur River Literary Review.  His other chapbook, Choices & Consequences, won the 1996 Maverick Press Southwest Poets' Series Chapbook Competition.

The poems in Wish I Could Dance range from direct and to the point to abstract and hard to follow.  I'm not the best judge of poetry -- a lot of it simply goes right over my head.  However, I did seem to get most of the poems in this book (which, for me, is impressive).

Like a lot of modern poetry, Fontenot's poems are rooted in themes of failure and angst.  However, he broaches these subjects in an interesting way.  A couple of the poems in the book explore the idea of drowning, including "Swimming Lesson," which this stanza is taken from:

I understand this about water:
it pulls you to it as gravity
pulls apples to ground,
as death drags men toward
the center of the earth,
if only by a miserly six feet.

There is also a common undercurrent of lost memory, encapsulated by this line from "Evidence of the Moon," where Fontenot writes that he "aches to hold time still and carve footholds in memory."

"Cadaver Dogs" is a strong poem, written about a girl who was missing and presumed dead.  It is speculative in nature, and one of the darkest poems of the book.

"Two Sessions with an Analyst" is a poem I didn't understand, but even that one was well-written.  Take these lines, for example:

Even when you stand still
the angle of the sun
moves the dark space
out of bounds, like the life
you thought you had
under control.

Overall the poems in this book are smooth and well-written.  All are free verse, and Fontenot shows a good grasp of stanza use and line breaks.  The cover image is clever -- a photograph of two left feet, taken looking down.

Wish I Could Dance is a professionally printed 32-page chapbook.  It had a relatively low retail price of $7.00, but doesn't currently seem to be available for sale anywhere.  It was published by Dallas Poets Community Press in 2009, as the winner of their chapbook contest.  Anyone interested might be able to find a copy on eBay at some point, or an online used bookstore such as Powell's Books.  You can read the title poem here:

http://www.redriverreview.net/A55656/RRR.nsf/c6c37550696a8f6f86256a3e00146d53/6ccca8ee854449e586256a3e00143d07

(Originally posted on Helium.com, June 2009)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Book Review: This Rage of Echoes, by Simon Clark

I'd heard of Simon Clark before, but I'd never read anything he wrote until I picked up a copy of This Rage of Echoes.  The plot sounded interesting -- clones of the main character keep popping up and trying to kill him -- and the book was on sale, so I gave it a try.  I wasn't impressed, but I don't regret reading it, either.  The book falls right around "average" on my scale.

The story centers around Mason Konrad, a likeable guy who for some reason keeps turning people around him into duplicates of himself.  That might not be such a bad thing, except for the fact that those duplicates seem bent on killing the original Konrad.  Mason meets up with other people who have been experiencing the same thing, and the book takes you on a violent, wild ride from there.

The beginning of the book is great -- there is a well-executed juxtaposition between the normalcy of cooking up some microwave pizzas and the savageness of slaughtering an Echoman, as the clones are called.  It definitely hooks the reader in.

The pacing fluctuates between split-second fights and hours (sometimes days) of relaxation and contemplation.  The main characters are well-developed and interesting, and most readers will find themselves engaged enough to wonder what happens next.  Clark is clearly a talented writer, and he does a good job of carrying this story through in first-person point of view.

When I was drawn into the story, I enjoyed it, but there were far too many times where I felt jerked out of the book and back into reality.  The narrator repeats a lot of things throughout the story, past the point of redundancy to where it's almost an insult to the reader.  Add to that a significant amount of typos (especially for a major publisher) and it's hard to remain focused on the story itself, which is a shame.

The ending was disappointing as well.  It seemed like a convenient way out, and it didn't fit in with everything that led up to it.  I really wanted to like this book, because the premise is unique and it could have made for a great story.

I probably wouldn't recommend This Rage of Echoes to other readers, but if given the opportunity I would try another book by Clark.  The praise he's received from other writers and from critics makes me pretty sure that this book isn't the best example of his writing prowess.

This Rage of Echoes is a 342-page mass-market paperback, published by Leisure Books in 2007.  You can get a new copy on Amazon for as low as $4.00 ($0.01 plus $3.99 shipping).

(Originally posted on Helium.com, Sept 2010)