Arsenic Lobster poetry journal Issue Thirty-four
Spring 2014
 
Review
CITIZEN J
by Daniela Olszewska

Artifice Books (2013)
ISBN: ISBN: 978-0988480490


Purchase at Artifice Books





Read Daniela’s poems in Arsenic Lobster
Issue Twenty-seven Winter 2011, Issue Thirty-four Spring 2014, Issue Thirty-four Spring 2014



Daniela Olszewska’s new poetry collection from Artifice Books ostensibly depicts the life of the titular character, citizen j: her revolutionary antics, her marriages to men, her working life, her marriages to women, and her slow cooptation into the system and eventual death. But to make a list in this manner does the book a disservice. The collection is not driven by plot but by the expansions and contractions of the character herself. Ironically, the closer we get to her, the less we know, like the magician’s trick of focusing the audience’s attention so that we can’t see where the trick is actually happening. The more we know about her, the more she abstracts, the more she becomes an everywoman. So much so that by book’s end, she is reduced to a page of lower-case j’s (“3.8”)—each repetition a moment without development, each repetition a particular instantiation of “a” citizen not “the” citizen j, each repetition a coordinate. It seems we can either know where she is or how fast she’s getting there, but we can’t know both at the same time with any certainty.

Structurally the book is divided into 3 parts, with a total of six sections, each with twelve poems per section. The poems are numbered like Biblical chapters and some of the section titles put me in the mind of sacred verses: “the twelve husbands of citizen j” and “the twelve wives of citizen j” reminding me of the 12 sons of Jacob, or the 12 apostles, or the many wives of David and Solomon. I hate to push this point too far, but there are a few moments in the text that seem to be playing around wth Genesis and Exodus. For example, in the second poem in the collection, citizen j is described as being affixed “in a tree. a fruit-bearing one” And in “2.1:”

                j bit the lustrefruit …
                + the animals started to act

                less affectionate-like.

Also in “2.6” the poet writes,

                this was really starting
                to look a lot like

                that time that happened
                to fall between rib-pullings.

The enjambment between “happened” and “to fall” further strengthens my feeling that this is a deliberate reference to Eve and the moment between the pre-lapsarian and the post-lapsarian. In “3.1” there is a reference to Exodus when her comrades are “designated to act out/as golden calves.” I don’t want to belabor this point since citizen j doesn’t seem at all concerned with religious matters, but it is clearly obsessed with notions of citizenship, and in America, at least, there is certainly an association between the “good” citizen and a particular brand of evangelical Christianity, so the imagery is certainly apt.

A peculiar lexical characteristic of the book is the utter lack of capital letters and the use of text lingo and abbreviations, which may be a clever, tongue-in-cheek comment on the recent controversies regarding the NSA reading the emails of American citizens. Maybe this is what a sacred text would look like in a world of, to use her own words, “post/fake/neo” Soviet and American kitsch, in an age of text messages and government spying—surveillance being a major undercurrent of the text as well. In “1.5,” for example, j is described as taking to the “notion that the insides/ of her toasters are miked.” And one of her husbands gives her “a tape recorder and an heirloom decoder ring” (“1.6.”), devices, however silly, one would associate with secrets and spying.

By far the best part of this very dense, complex and whimsical book is the wordplay. Anyone who is familiar with her work, especially cloudfang : : cakedirt, is not going to be surprised by this conclusion. She revels in language, especially in compounding words. In a review/interview with Cassandra Gillig at Bangango Lit, Olszewska says that her favorite compound word in citizen j is “pigwing” and that she is particularly fond of “[c]ompound words that use two nouns to make an adjective.” But what I have always admired about her work is the delicate use of enjambment. For example, in the poem numbered “1.6,” she writes,

                j, baby, please put that pout out now and think of all those back
                at the ranch who can only wish they had this qualified of a human

                resources manager.

The enjambment between “human” and “resources” is priceless and yet perfectly captures the sometimes-surreal nature of the world of cubicles and managers. There are so many such moments I could enumerate, but I will resist the urge to give them all away. I am also fascinated by these incomplete syntactical structures that appear occasionally throughout the text as if completing a rational thought is a challenge in such a world: “(that’s some fate worse than, that’s some fate worse than.)” This, for example, is an unfinished comparative that simply repeats itself. Another example reads like an old Robert Benchley joke: “nailbiting was forbidden between/ the hours of.” Propaganda doesn’t necessarily follow logic, after all; in fact, it tends to be crafted to short-circuit it. Unlike slogans, which can impoverish language, Olszewska’s poetry, on the other hand, fills it to the brim and leaves us dizzied, unsettled and yet ready for more.
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Review by Carlo Matos, Guest Reviewer

Carlo has published poems in many online and print journals, but what he’s really about is fighting and writing. Fighting and writing!


Zoonosis
by Kelly Boyker

Hyacinth Girl Press (2014)

Purchase at Hyacinth Girl Press





Read Kelly’s poems in Arsenic Lobster
Issue Thirty-two Winter 2011, Issue Thirty-two Winter 2011, Issue Thirty-two Winter 2011



It takes a certain degree of prudence to enter Kelly Boyker’s chapbook. Here is Little Red trail-blazing on a path permeated by morbid tenderness wearing her heart as a “muscle pendant.” But we must beware: linking arms to the wolf means we cannot really expect to get away with it. There is no escape. We can’t trust his promises. He will kill her (and us)—albeit softly. A bite so cruel that it will last long.

“This is what he says to me:
I will not eat you, but if necessary
I promise to make it painless,
a gentle de-boning, the place the mouth goes —
your wet and messy entrails.
You shall float near the tree canopy, ecstatic
as I pull your entire body through my teeth.

(from “Little Red”)


As we move forward in the reading we get more and more entangled in a poetical world whose main theme revolves around human creatures that would have made Diane Arbus rave. As in Arbus’ painstaking photographs, Boyker depicts a parallel human world where freaks are real and we cannot help feeling empathy for them.

Zoonosis is an avant-garde “Bestiary” demanding us to see what it means to be subhuman and human. With perceptive writing and beautifully vivid language the author presents us with creatures that come alive asking us to contemplate them. These poetical beings go beyond society’s norm but they are never monsters. They dwell in our minds, they fill our eyes, they touch our hearts and they plead us to be enlightened by their presence. We are truly reminded of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley!

Boyker’s chapbook is not a heartless slaughterhouse of the soul, but readers must bear with the pitiless dissection of feelings and bodies at all times. If we see rivulets of blood or watch puppy heads being implanted, it is because the author is striving to tell us with full force that we must look at other people’s—as well as our own—guts to be able to deal with poetry


“Like all sad tales, I stop the heart and begin again with a machine,
Remove the head, insert arterial and venous tubes, pump. Connect
to the host.

[…] sticks, balls, vestibules and massacres—
there is only now the cotton muzzle and bottled ether on the table.”

(from “Orthrus”)

“Whatever held us together has been removed
All loose part: thorax, claws, tail, mandibles,
The astonishing devastation.”

(from “The Crab-Toed Tribe”)


Zoonosis is not a Grand Guignol show, but it rather stages a humankind that is seldom kind. Reading it makes us realize that “horror” treads the planks of the world, and we are asked to cope with it as best as we can, because we are part of that very “horror.” We cannot simply hide in the wings, but we are invited to share the limelight with the characters in the playbill. We must watch them play their role and impart salt in their wounds, as well as our own. Since we share the very wounds and the pain of these poetical beings, we can acknowledge our own morphing into better beings in the whole process, in a cathartic experiment of faith in writing and poetry.

If Charles Baudelaire, in the Preface of his The Flowers of Evil, exclaims “You! Hypocrite reader, my likeness, my brother!” Boyker seems to deny this pact of acknowledgement with her readers by stating, “we were never meant to be conjoined and still survive.”

It is indeed hard to part from these poems: we end up being joined to their words with our very flesh. We fuse with their lines as Siamese twins


“Unlike Siamese twins, separated at birth,
There should be no pact between us,

But the light across the ceiling, the light across your shoulders,
The half drawn blinds tell a different story

Of bitter amputation and putrid sheets,
the slow grind of a granite against river rock.

We were never meant to be conjoined and still survive.”

(from “I Know You from a Ragged Quarry”)

As the title, Zoonosis, suggests, poetry is the quintessential pathogenic art. Never aseptic, it infects us permanently and to the core of our being. But we will end up surviving and, for this, we have to be thankful.
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Review by Alessandra Bava, Guest Reviewer

Alessandra is a translator and a poet from the Eternal city. In August 2010 she could have hardly imagined that bumping into poet laureate Jack Hirschman at Caffe Trieste in San Francisco would have changed her life so much. In the past 4 years she has fallen in love, she has been busy writing a biography, she has met and translated amazing poets and she has kept writing more poetry and chapbooks—the latest two will be forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press and Blood Pudding Press in 2014.