Into the Forest Engine, Garth Graeper (Projective Industries, 2009)
One of Into the Forest Engine’s most appealing qualities is its physicality. The artifact itself has a metallic quality and looks like the inside of a dark factory, perhaps one that produces mannequins or can openers. It’s pocket-sized, and the more worn my copy becomes, the more delightful I find the little book.
The chapbook is divided into four sections, and feels like navigating a series of underground tunnels. The poems are mysterious and dark, sometimes cold. The first section is titled “The Remains.” The title implies an earlier destruction, and prepares the reader to traverse a terrain akin to a graveyard. And there is a lot of decay and decomposition of various bodies throughout the book; there is mention of “temporary / bodies,” and the opening pages are rather ghostly:
voices of the invisible
haunting for their
unlikeness, urging us to turn
Graeper impressively weaves the artificial and natural worlds throughout this collection, and in the first section, he draws a beautiful comparison between the bodies of trees and human bodies: “root systems / a hole where they’re married / in the water.” I’m picturing the dark and dank of swamplands and the underwater webs of baldcypress tree roots. In a more deeply abstract way, all humans are connected in the dark somewhere before birth, or more physically, by the umbilical cord.
In the second section of the book—“During the Glitch,”—the speaker’s tone grows more personal and pensive: “walking so we don’t feel / cased in a thin, flexible death.” These lines, though less forcefully, echo the sentiment of Robert Creeley’s, “I Know a Man” : “the darkness sur- / rounds us”…
Two small qualms: the four section titles feel too profound. For example, “Desire Enters the Engine.” There are too many explicit “hearts” throughout the poems. Sometimes they wander too far into the cosmos. But they are also Whitmanesque, cosmic, organic, metallic, distinctive.
12 Poems, DJ Dolack (Eye for an Iris Press, 2010)
DJ Dolack’s 12 Poems opens with a piece that warns: “It’s going to get better / before it gets worse.” Uninhibited experimentation with spacing lends certain pieces an airier, drawn-out, contemplative feel, while others retain a wry, economical tightness. Dolack also displays a particular skill for the aural — “Rot and Poplar” is especially sonically appealing. Its subtle off-rhyme creates a lilting, sing-song effect: “we may have stood / for some dream retention / a scent of fresh catkin.” Though not quite shocking, Dolack’s imagery and juxtaposition of language are certainly memorable. He writes of “a low / yellow moon outside / sipping back the sky.” This is but one instance of Dolack finding fresh language to explore one of poetry’s more recurrent images.
A strong speaker is noticeably absent from most of Dolack’s poems, many of which display a mastery over depicting emptiness. Not rooted in the overtly personal, the collection’s dialogue manages an effective directness as it explores themes of communication and loss. Dolack’s final lines are especially successful in their often bizarre, seemingly off-the-cuff delivery. Just when you may be inclined to think that 12 Poems risks being a collection full of pretty language lacking much punch, you are met with “In Wind & City,” a piece which spans four pages, ending on a surprisingly eerie note. Then, toward the collection’s end, you are left with a resounding taste of the poet’s wit, the surprise innuendoed command of, in a seemingly anachronistic context, “So google me.”
Try a Little Time Travel, Natalie Lyalin (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2010)
There are numerous innovative phrases and shocking moments in Natalie Lyalin’s chapbook, Try a Little Time Travel, that emphasize the tension between past and future. These poems, anxious in content yet controlled in voice, call to mind the works of Rimbaud and unapologetically announce their frustration with the current state of things, struggling to strike a balance between past mistakes (“In the beginning we missed things”) and the yearning for future restoration (“One thousand years from now our brains will connect”). Though the collection’s focus is scattered and simplistic at times, the speaker’s faith pulsates through each poem with rejuvenating power, convincing the reader that something important awaits. The wait, however, is painful and met with impatience, and the elusive answer may exist anywhere in the future or past, which inspires the speaker to fantasize about time travel. Time travel, however, comes at a price. Even imagining it requires a modicum of self-sabotage: “. . . tear out a hair strand, / This is your tether for returning.”