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.