Friday, March 30, 2012

FU Weekly: Reviews of Songs and Rhymes

A set of two reviews is our offering for you today. After all, summer is coming (well, spring at any rate), and don't you just love a good summer (or spring) read?

The first review originally appeared in Fantastique Unfettered #3.

Songs for the Devil and Death by Hal Duncan
Reviewed by Alexandra Seidel

"This is the song of Orpheus, a song unbound by time. / This is the song bound only by the lover's rhythm and the poet's rhyme" may just be a perfect summary of  Hal Duncan's 'Songs for the Devil and Death', but even in the strength of these two brief lines, you can only get a whiff, a glance of the height and depth, of the blackness and the light captured on these pages.

It is hard to recommend the proper setting in which to read this little book of verse and truth, and even so, it feels like it wants and needs a setting. Wine, tissues, or an audience made up of an army of sinners may all work at some point, may all be necessary. That said, some of these poems cut so deep that you may cry or laugh yourself to tears, some of them will want to make you shout what you are reading to the world, which is why reading in public spaces may draw unwanted attention, please be aware of that before you get on the bus.

The collection consists of individual sonnets and of poems grouped under different headings. The individual pieces are chosen to connect the longer works, a structure that presents a flawless whole. In here, only some of the work is given a closer look, those being the songs that spoke to me most.

The Sonnets for Orpheus are perhaps a little bit my favorites, but never by much. "I'll sing of the vine, the grain, the salt, and sex. / I'll sing you my soul. I'll open up and bleed. / Muses, as Graces, all I ask--give me the charms I need" for example resonates with the poet in me, but everyone who has ever contemplated to do anything with passion should be able to relate. These words want to be shouted and sung, like a concert, a mad choir of harpies or furies or…poets: "he'll break the hearts of weak and strong / and Death himself will sing along. // Here is my Orpheus, his severed head held high, / his tongue as lethal as Medusa's eyes." Most of all, the Sonnets for Orpheus speak of liberation without pretence, of the human need to break free: "Now, a new sun rises, proud as the morning glory of a cock. / Now Orpheus sings again, song shattering Prometheus's rock."

Wake can at the most be whispered in the silence of solitude, the words catching in your mouth as you swallow to keep the tears down. These are deeply personal poems, angry poems, but even so or just because of that I could directly relate to them, the way in which words are so meaningless in grief, the way Christianity is nothing but reviling without the mask of faith. "As--heaven--is on earth--it is / On coffined love a stranger's piss, // This service prattle preaching zeal, / Magician's dove and Judas kiss[.]"

Sonnets for Kouroi Old and New is best imbibed in between glasses, in between kisses, cheers and jeers, in between climaxes. They are a sequence of carnal seduction, clearly drawn in he likenesses of the heroes of Greek myth and legend, they are a "mischief with the mysteries of flesh and the bliss / is clearly woven from silk words to snare more than a kiss."

Sonnet 29 and Amorica sting and sting again, speak of love and insecurity, of holding on, of giving our selves to love because there is nothing else we can do. "[A] thousand thorns may drive me wild / and I will bleed for love, and to my death be reconciled." and the thorns stay, dissolving in your flesh until they run in your blood.

Still Lives is an ossuary, a place brimming with rotten fruit. It touches you because it is so true, and you know it. It clings to you because that is what the smell of rot does. Be afraid, for sometimes "all the lies are true."

"We cannot step twice into the same river; / for the waters flow fresh over and they flow forever" are words From the Fragments of Heraklitos, a gathering of poems that I read several times, finding something new in each read. These poems are--like many others, directly or indirectly--concerned with truth: "This world, which is the same for all, / no single god or man has made;" and "time is a child playing draughts, / the power of a king in a child's grasp." are some of the things that I found meaningful during my latest read, things that made me think.

And there is of course The Lucifer Cantos, raw and neat and true as all of the above. Hungry. Greedy. If you cannot take the earth, take this instead, or rather, take the earth and fill it with the cards shown here, shuffle well, and deal: "I do not threaten, do not lie, / but only warn: we will reclaim the sky."

After finishing the book, I had the slight urge to set fire to something, to sneak into a church and shout obscenities, just to hear the echo of these words in the pews. You know, perhaps operating heavy machinery after reading 'Songs for the Devil and for Death' is not such a good idea. If ever there was a worthy sacrifice to Dionysus and Death, then Reader, it is this book. The 'Songs for the Devil and Death' are a battle cry, a primal sigh, a guiltless moan, but most of all--most surprisingly of all--they are ruthlessly honest. Quite apart from that, Hal Duncan shows a mastery of language and structure that I find admirable. In conclusion, although this book has certain drug-like qualities, every human being should own a copy. Reader, believe me if I say you want this book.

Songs for the Devil and Death by Hal Duncan
ISBN: 978-1-907881-04-6
Papaveria Press

Cinderella Jump Rope Rhymes
Reviewed by Alexandra Seidel

One might call this little book of jump rope rhymes a revival, but that would suggest that these childhood rhymes were--at some point--dead. Looking at the examples in this collection I find that very doubtful. With the originals still very present in the poets' minds, "Cinderella Jump Rope Rhymes" presents itself as a string of re-imagined children's poetry, going through a spectrum of lemon to flame in the process. The poets involved didn't just bring a rainbow arsenal of crayons to the table however, they also added a pinch of wickedness, something dark, something mean, and something silly; the result is really quite enjoyable.

Apart from devilishly sweet verses, "Cinderella Jump Rope Rhymes" showcases the fruitful result of a collaborative effort of eight poets, Francesca Forrest, Erik Amundsen, Nadia Bulkin, Kyle Davis, Samantha Henderson, Rose Lemberg, Julia Rios, and Sonya Taaffe. Adam Oehlers treats the reader's eyes to illustrations of the weird that transform this project into a stage on paper for the rhymes to act out their magic.

"Cinderalla Jump Rope Rhymes" is recommended, even for those ostensibly too old to jump rope.

Cinderella Jump Rope Rhymes
ISBN: 978-1-907881-16-9
Papaveria Press

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