Book Review | Glass Bikini by Kristin Bock

Reviewed by South Broadway Press Editor, Brice Maiurro

In Glass Bikini, I want to say that Kristin Bock throws us smack dab in the center of an endless-seeming funhouse. Funhouse feels incomplete though. Riddled with everything from angels to monsters, robots to ghosts, Bock has strewn together many worlds, funhouses, haunted houses, universes, and open fields alike.

Bock has a knack for quick, weirdo storytelling the likes of James Tate, but Bock separates from Tate when her words turn down darker roads, often leaving the reader with a profound feeling that something substantial has just occurred. I found myself reflecting on the absurdity of my own experience. In the lawless land of a universe where snowmen cry tears of fire, I was given permission as the reader to reside in whatever strange corner of the ether that called to me.

Monsters are probably the most common image of the collection, stomping around at the intersection of childlike whimsy and our collective trauma. This is aided by a selection of quotes throughout by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, author of Frankenstein. In her second poem, “Creation Myth”, the poet herself creates a monster. “The ideal monster is 8 hands tall,” says Bock establishing her authority on the creation of these terrible creatures. The poem continues on to place together the ornate details of this monster before ending with “Then, find the ribbon within the figure, the gesture at its center and pull.” She seems to advise us how to make a monster, just to show us then how to dismantle one. “Sometimes monsters are so big you can’t see them,” Bock reminds us in “The President’s Dream.”

This theme continues throughout the collection. A matter-of-fact building of a surreal world, if only to figure out how to escape it. A looking-in-the-eye of the ugly and scary, then blown away as soon as Bock decides to send in the hurricane.

At times the world-building is devastatingly quick. In “How Rabbits Finally Took Over the World”, Bock says, “Sometime after the extinction of whales,” as if it were just a throwaway line. I want to stop, and grieve this loss, but in what feels like a mirroring of our own modern world, I’m left with the deep feeling that there is simply no time. There is too much to do and say, and my longing to process all this change will have to be placed on the backburner, possibly to never be revisited. 

Where so many poems in existence might feel like a warm hug, or floating down a river, with Bock’s poems, I often felt I had found myself in a bear trap, or perhaps a wormhole between universes. She wonderfully works with dark matter, as if she is acting as the great organizer of the animalistic floats and mannequin musicians in a parade of the shadow self.

One of the turns I found astounding in Glass Bikini was the occasional page turn to something romantic and incredibly present. In “Barn Burning” the poet comes home to a barn on fire, and in an undoubtedly spiritual moment shares with us,

“Out of the smoke / a mare walked up to me / slowly, as if she knew me— / as if we weren’t on fire.”

Moments like this were the highlight of the collection for me. In the middle of so much frenetic chaos, an undoubtable and slow encounter with beauty held so much weight to me as the reader.

Bock is well-aware of that reader, and the relationship that she is engaging them in. Her poems in the second person had a strong “you” to them, as if Bock were reaching her hand out directly to us to belong here, come hell or high water. With the same insistence as John Lennon’s famous “picture yourself on a boat on a river,” Bock presents the reader with less of a request to come along, and more of a sudden and total immersion.

I’d have to say my favorite poem in the collection was “Pluto”, where Bock casts a spell on a laundry list of all of the bigots, abusers, racists, and misogynists of the world, sending them to the cold recesses of space. “[T]here’s a place for you here,” says Bock, “ inside my vacuous core of ice and ash.” Bock firmly draws a hard line in the sand against these all-too-real monsters and monstrous ideologies that persist on the main stage of society.

Bock’s poetry is a magic I want to see more of. In Glass Bikini, she is resolute to fall as deep as she can into the rabbit hole, prepared to make and unmake the cruelest of monsters and reform herself in the shade of whatever strange color she can. This is what I want of poetry, the humility and power of a collection like Glass Bikini. One section of the book is introduced with an Emily Dickinson quote “’Tis so appalling—it exhilarates—“. This appalling exhilaration finds home in the words of Bock to remind us that these fever dreams are a masterful mimicry of our sober reality.

Glass Bikini was published by Tupelo Press and is available for purchase here.

Book Review | The Eden of Perhaps by Agnes Vojta

Reviewed by South Broadway Press Editor, Brice Maiurro

Agnes Vojta’s full-length poetry collection, The Eden of Perhaps, finds itself welcomed into a lineage of poets existing in liminal spaces. In an early poem in the collection, What If, Vojta asks the reader “what if the answer is not here/there, either/or, but both, between, and?” In our society, plagued by othering, perfectionism, and divisiveness, Vojta’s poems continue to ask the right questions all throughout the collection.

I believe it is often the work of a poet to consider grey space. This may feel contrary to what someone thinks of when they think of a poet, self-assured and convicted, preaching their gospel or anti-sermon to an enraptured audience, but there is often more truth when a poet brings along a healthy sense of humility. Poets like John Brehm speak to and curate collections on impermanence. In a 2020 episode of the podcast Between the Covers, Pulitzer Prize recipient Natalie Diaz encourages the acknowledgement of not understanding, or even misunderstanding. Ocean Vuong, in his poem Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong shares with the reader “the most beautiful part of your body/ is where it is headed.” Many great poets have learned to walk the tight rope of transition, to balance on the line of maybe.

I was particularly stricken by Vojta’s poem, Atonement:

Sometimes I wish I belonged
to a religion that practices confession.

I can walk in the forest and confess to the trees,
kneel by the river and whisper to the water,
stand in the field and shout to the sky –
but who will pronounce me shriven?

I have to prescribe my own penance,
whip my body to exhaustion to drown out
the mind’s self-flagellation,

and wait for the unpromised peace.

Being raised Catholic, I am no stranger to this attitude of religious penance that Vojta brings forth in the four short stanzas of Atonement, but though she mentions at times she longs for this space of confession, she ultimately settles, or unsettles, in the uneasy space of waiting “for the unpromised peace.” Vojta’s style at times reminds me of the beloved American poet Mary Oliver. An iceberg—in the sense that often below the surface of the deceptively simple words is ten secret tons of depth. Vojta is something of an iceberg herself. In Atonement, she seems to remind us that religion may present us some feeling of closure, but where a truth lies is in understanding that no peace is promised. These are the words that could shake a world free of the imprisonment of ignorance and return us to a shared experience of unknowing.

The book is brimming with bop after bop. In Seeds of No Return, Vojta, in a kind of magic, bans “the word never” from her mind. In Accomplished Hamster, Vojta manages to turn the cute allegory of a hamster on its wheel into a dark social commentary on hopelessness. Vojta’s poems are no stranger to humor, but they wield it like a knife. In Greeting Cards They Don’t Make, Vojta stands on her soapbox to announce the world’s lack of a greeting card that appropriately states inside “I hope the bastard rots in jail.”

It seems to me that Vojta must live her life as a student to poetry, often passing through the world with dreamer’s eyes. Finding compassion in the dying words of the Mars rover, Vojta creates a beautiful eulogy for a robot in My Battery is Low and It’s Getting Dark. Vojta hoists a feminist fist of dissent that RBG would applaud throughout the collection, including a disruptive reworking of such classic, albeit dated, fairy tales as Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty.

 What’s refreshing about Vojta’s Eden of Perhaps is that it is, in fact, a collection. The poems are in conversation with each other, coming together like a multitude of seeds in the juiciest most pungent pomegranate you’ve ever eaten, unapologetically dripping all over the blueprint of a broken society.

Having read Vojta’s poems, I find myself more willing to say “I don’t know” as I move through my daily life, and while this may sound like some kind of defeat to some, for me it’s a nice walk through the garden in an imperfect Eden that feels more real than anything that they are trying to sell us.

              The Eden of Perhaps was published by Spartan Press and is available for purchase here.

mouth trap by rebbecca brown – a review by seth berg

mouth trap

October sings to me like a sexy yodeler, alternating abruptly between chest-voice and falsetto, simultaneously eerie and enchanting, vocal vibrations shaking foliage free. It is fitting then, that Rebbecca Brown’s brilliant prose collection Mouth Trap, Arc Pair Press, 2018, landed with a boisterous thud through my otherwise uneventful mail slot. This is a fascinating, musical, often melancholic collection from an alternate dimension. Brown has crafted dreamy, sometimes nightmarish, micro-worlds that challenge the confines of three dimensions. From the onset, she delivers an intentional, intelligently snarky heft which challenges the reader to engage in immediate self-examination:

Object (pg. 1):

There is nothing to stand and declare loneliness when the wind scratches against saplings—initial here, initial there, toward anything, something seems.

Brown crafts precise catastrophes designed to enlighten and frequently induce hallucination. In doing so, she left this reader feeling sculptured, but not at all fearful:

Not Exactly Clear    or There (pg. 3):

She listened to someone singing in a rain soaked sky at the bottom of an ocean. Someone offered fleeting moments and a sack of teeth that clattered and clashed against a touch that smelted numb.

 Body parts—sometimes human, sometimes animal, always precise—abound in various contexts resulting in multi-tiered transmogrifications affecting speaker and reader alike. The aforementioned self-examination becomes blurred as reader and speaker are both bodies of aged stardust contorted by the frailty of shared emotion, the uncertainty of voice:

The Circuitry (pg. 23):

There I am—one star, the sickle constellation. It is part and parcel. It is meted out. This is how I tell time etches bodies bright to sallow.

 The shadows wrap themselves around my legs and make themselves available in ways lovers never can be. I’ve forgotten the way someone else smells frictive and pleasured. I’ve forgotten who is speaking.

 I am reminded of Timothy “Speed” Levitch’s vignette from Waking Life during which he states “Before you drift off, don’t forget, which is to say remember, because remembering is so much more a psychotic activity than forgetting.” As Mouth Trap progressed, I found myself vivaciously embracing the psychotic activity that Brown has embedded throughout this exploration, not needing to remind myself to remember to remember as Brown forced me to confront the past on multiple occasions:

This Began (pg. 35):

You, my blue bird, my bumble bee, my lightning, my white hot streak of pleading, lead me like fission, like fragments of yesterdays colliding through the sight of park swings shifting legs into the sunshine. You, my sentence, my likening, my one word into the next, full of sense and senseless. I’ve forgotten where I’ve lost you. In a pocket, in a figment of the past where the verbs all lie, buried with worms and writhing.

 While Mouth Trap resounds with weird zest, Brown maintains room for sweetness and heart, fully considering the need to appreciate and honor those who labor to create:

To the Artist (pg. 36):

I’ve never written to anyone dead before, and since the weather’s in my bones, now I have time to tell you, I respect your work, not to say I’d want the same, all those crossing of lines, dabbling and doodles, the constant trail of cocker spaniels yellowing behind, and since these are inconsistencies, dumb dumb mysteries with no witch to cackle at, throw stones, thank you please. I suppose your hair is fizzling into sticks through triangular stars toward the valleys, where you weren’t, but maybe are, and that’s what I wonder, wish upon, so that I might say somehow, I admire how you hung on the walls like a dead mouth trap.

 While I openly admit that I have a soft spot for literary strangeness, I am also objective enough to ignore my aesthetic preferences as I seek literary rarities and complete collections that resonate with intelligence and masterful dedication. Mouth Trap is indeed a rarity in it’s ability to simultaneously convey dynamic human spirit while inducing hallucinations; is stands brazenly atop a peak like a minstrel thought extinct. Brown has invigorated my love of prose poetry and I will psychotically and consciously remember this book until I have danced myself into exhaustion:

The Dancers in the Book are Getting Tired (pg. 60):

Lithe bodies of filament and flesh tirelessly stretch their legs and recline in the dutiful taut of muscle. In the story, they motion toward endings fictitious, firm in coming and going. She says and he says: a body straining to skin and ashes this is where we are and will be. The clock marking page turn and photograph a drying artifact crafts a paper syntax. They extend and bend the pages all the while weary not aware of the worm the moth and cocoon’s wrap.

SBGS December

You can find more about Rebbecca Brown on Goodreads.

Seth Berg is a hatchet-wielding forest-dweller who digs tasty hallucinatory literature. A hot-sauce-addicted pyromaniac with an MFA from Bowling Green State University, Berg fantasizes about flight without mechanisms, alien glyph systems, and snowshoeing through your nocturnal dreamscapes. He is a professor, poet, artifact-maker, and amateur astrophysicist whose mathematically coded collections of poetry will haunt, invigorate, provoke, and inspire you.

Berg’s first book, Muted Lines From Someone Else’s Memory won the Dark Sky Books 2009 book contest. His second book, Aviary, co-authored with Bradford K. Wolfenden II, won the 2015 Artistically Declined Twin Antlers Contest, and was released by Civil Coping Mechanisms in January of 2017. Other poems and short fiction can be found in Connecticut Review, 13th Warrior Review, Spittoon Literary Review, BlazeVOX, Heavy Feather Literary Review, The Montucky Review, Masque & Spectacle, and Lake Effect, among others. Recently, poems were anthologized in GTCPR Volume III and Daddy Cool. He lives in Minnesota with his two supernatural children, Oak and Sage, and his magical better half, Kori. He loves your face. 

You can find more about Seth Berg at mutedlines.com and on Goodreads.

YEE-HAW, Cletus!!!

Photo: @bantersnaps