Joyless House Book Reviews
99 Poems to Cure Whatever's Wrong With You or Create the Problems You Need
by: Sam Pink
Have you ever seen that show, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee? Well Sam Pink's new poetry collection is a lot like that show, except instead of Jerry Seinfeld it's hosted by Sam Pink, and there's no guest, and he's not in a car, he's walking, and there's no witty dialogue, only the pristine thoughts that arise through the silent contemplation of the world around us.
Yeah, poetry is a many-splendored thing, man. It can be almost anything. It can be verbose and inscrutable or terse and immutable. Or you can just throw together rhyming words that don't mean shit on a damn biscuit! Ha ha. Pink takes the minimalist approach here. Were you able to get through the title? Then you should be able to handle the poems herein; most of them aren't much longer.
But seriously: Sam's absurdist humor, human empathy and ability to invoke feeling with a minimum of words remain unmatched. I, for one, am encouraged by Sam's zen approach to life in this crazy world. Encouraged and amused. It's like coming across a Buddhist monk selling trinkets at a Florida flea market and you ask him, "how is this following 'the Way'?" and he shrugs and says, "gotta eat".
In short, you should get 99 Poems by Sam Pink. It's the kind of book you'll read in one sitting, laughing along the way, then sit quietly and contemplate for a while, staring off into space... maybe pick your nose a little... then start all over at page one.
Big Bruiser Dope Boy
by: Ryan Bry
This edition of Joyless House Book Reviews is kind of special. It's not every day that three high-quality poetry collections come across the JH reviews desk, so we decided the occasion deserved a dedicated page. Let's be real; to write poetry intended for public consumption in this day and age, in this fucking country, under your own name or any moniker by which you can be identified, found out, hunted down and nailed to a post in the public square to be... I don't know, whacked by teenagers with a 3-foot length of rubber hose, or however they're punishing poets in America's heartland these days, well... it's an act of bravery. We figured the least we could do is give these doomed soldiers a public salute before the war on culture blows them up for good. (Cue Rosanne's rendition of the Star Spangled Banner)
So without further ado, let's have a look at Big Bruiser Dope Boy's Foghorn Leghorn. Ah, yes, you've been waiting for this one, haven't you? And with good reason. How could a book that comes with a glowing endorsement from luminary art goon, Sam Pink and includes a scene where our hero graciously jacks off in his jock strap to the gratification of some lonely perv go wrong? Answer: I reckon it couldn't. I reckon it couldn't.
The Dope Boy's style is accessible, personal, visceral. Poetry for the people. Street poetry, maybe. An extension of the break the beats made with stuffy, classical form. I'm down with it; I like it. I grew up in the 80s, came of age in the 90s and I guess as a member of Generation Post-Everything Cool/Pre-Everything Online, loud and angsty just speaks to me. While there is alienation here, desperation and pain, what comes through the loudest is a sense of defiance. These poems are the song of a man on the way to his own execution. But the BBDB does not sing to entreat his maker or plead for grace; instead he picks a fight with his handlers, determined to square things with anyone who's wronged him while he's still got breath in his lungs. Defiance in the face of certain doom; it has an almost poetic ring to it don't you think?
You will find yourself cheering for the Dope Boy; that's easy. But more than that, if your are keen, you'll hear his high howl on the midnight wind. Your nerves will twitch and your hairs stand on end, eager to find out just how you measure up. The best poetry is always a call to action.
I had equally high hopes for Information Blossoms by Ryan Bry. Expat Press is known far and wide for publishing only the most exemplary works of literature and Bry's debut takes a big swing, coming in at 200 pages. Ryan aims HIGH, baby. In fact, many of these poems flew right over my fucking head! blowing my hair back and singeing my eyebrows with the desperate heat of their poetic yearning already! Most of the words Bry chooses read like stand ins for other words, picked for their superior aesthetic qualities, with no obvious correlation of meaning. As a result, many of these poems feel like they've been written by an intelligent being that is not necessarily human - maybe a benevolent extraterrestrial, maybe an experimental algorithm run amok, set to codify human empathy and ultimately gorging itself, expanding uncontrollably to encompass this whole human idea of "poetry".
But, then, this is poetry isn't it? Reading these poems as grocery lists of events, or cause/effect-linear ideas is sure to leave you disoriented - feeling weird in your nethers. Only when you let yourself relax and be delighted by the gentle rain of Bry's odd lyricism does the beauty of Information Blossoms manifest itself. Find yourself a dim, comfortable room, maybe a bean bag chair. Inhale deeply of the mellowest strains... You are on a trip and you're in for the long haul.
One of the pleasing things about IB is that it feels like an important work of a younger generation - the musings of a soul pulled from a familiar protozoan pool, but incubated in a futuristic, computerized world (so futuristic, in fact, I think a lot of these poems and pieces of flash fiction relate to gaming and or video game coding!). This book is like an invitation to an online chat between powerful, young nerds. The modern day alchemists. You can either feel your way into the conversation, embrace the new-organic vibes, or just sit it out and pout. Go back to the basement and spank it to your fucking Rolling Stones records. Loser.
The third entry into the first annual Joyless House Poetry Slam is Application of Shadows by A. Molotkov. The book consists of five long poems, sparse and exacting in their language and evocative in their imagery. There is an existential vibe throughout and Molotkov excels at creating a palpable mood. The poet seems to be wrestling with the big questions here; real 'what is my place in the universe stuff', a far cry from computer games and masturbating into jock straps.
Molotkov is a Russian by birth and only started writing in english some years after moving to the U.S. back in the 90s. I think sometimes writing in a second language leads to extra care in choosing words, for one thing, and perhaps facilitates a more unique American voice - one that's not corrupted by a lifelong inundation by the inanities of American pop culture. Molotkov asks more questions than he gives answers. I found myself intrigued by the spartan lines, compelled to turn them over again and again, affected in a not unpleasant way by the cool, melancholy energy they seem to exude. These poems suggest a stark, gray day just before dawn or perhaps at twilight, sitting alone in an empty field. They suggest a certain sadness earned by a life spent searching for meaning - a sadness that is preferable in every way to the lie of blissful ignorance.
From the poem Time and Absence:
in darkness in silence
we can establish
if it's all worth it
if the past is worth the future
and vice versa
Go ahead, turn it over.