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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Rob Plath (words) Janne Karlsson (ink) IN ROT WE TRUST Vol.1: Body Bag Nation. (Lummox Press, 2017) 40 pages


In this slim volume of graphic poetry, American writer Rob Plath joins forces with Swedish artist Janne Karlsson to launch an unrelentingly morose and macabre take on life & death. Through a series of 33 startling poems, the duo explore all-things-death: the ephemeral, ugly nature of every day life, how many of us lead a complacent, death-in-life existence, the inevitability of our quickly approaching doom and Plath’s & Karlsson’s urgent need to record all these thoughts & feelings through their art.

The front cover is a parody of a typical family photo. Instead of glistening teeth and wide smiles, Karlsson inks us a caricature of a father corpse posing with his two kids- all are fetid green & blood splattered, with their mouths grimly stitched shut.

The title ‘In Rot We Trust’ is an obvious pun on the American motto ‘In God We Trust’ but you will find the poetry in this collection apolitical. Instead, Plath is more concerned with examining the nature of his personal suffering and spews bile at the cosmos for allowing his birth.

In two poems entitled ‘Dear Universe’, he crudely and cynically addresses the cosmos in an accusatory tone: “Yr silver-linings/ are all shit-stained” and “cheers for all/ the fucking holes// there’s not/ much left/ for you to stab.”

This idea of a malevolent, personified supreme being causing suffering and emptiness & death is a central motif in this chapbook.  In ‘Cigarettes Sizzling in Yr Wounds’ Karlsson’s illustration shows a big hand reaching down from the sky clutching a cigarette. Below, a sprawled naked man grimaces in pain from several bleeding cigarette burns to his body.

(all poems/ illustrations in this review have been republished with the permission of the poet/artist)

Plath tersely sums up the existential human condition through an illuminating metaphor:

now & again the universe
kindly removes a bullet

ah, but that twisted fuck
just wants a bloody ashtray

Another important perspective that Plath presents his readers with is the idea that many of us, although still breathing, are already dead & a waste of fucking space. In the powerful title poem, ‘BODY BAG NATION’ Plath & Karlsson represent the average person as deluded & self-obsessed:




Rob Plath’s response to this personal & metaphysical crisis is to deeply reflect on his experiences and to “launch another motherfucking poem” (‘at 45’). In ‘a good poem’ he succinctly sums up his work: “is a cross/ between brass/ knuckles// & a toe tag.” Further, in ‘Guts & graffiti’ he metaphorically posits:

a poem begins
w/a fucking
hand grenade
in the throat

Karlsson’s accompanying illustration shows a body exploding into many parts as the speaker of the poem attempts to extend his middle finger to the heavens.

IN ROT WE TRUST is an irreverent, deeply dark portrait which rails against the tombstones of conventional thinking & the writing of poetry. As in the poem ‘Look’, Plath takes a box-cutter to our superficial notions of appearances & hope. In the end, there is no escape.


Interestingly, in one of the last poems, Plath states: i’m so slow lately… maybe / i’m dead.”

Resources

Buy the book here from Lummox Press: https://www.lummoxpress.com/lc/in-rot-we-trust/

Check out Rob Plath’s site which provides info- especially on how to buy his books, photographs and artwork: http://www.robplath.com

The madness that is all things Janne Karlsson: http://www.svenskapache.se

For a limited time find a generous sample from IN ROT WE TRUST: https://issuu.com/poetraindog/docs/_inrot_1_sampler__1_


In my copy of the book, I received from Plath a ‘toe tag poem’- an original poem manually typed on the back of a tag intended to be attached to the toe of a deceased person. How fucking cool!


Saturday, December 9, 2017

POETS UNDERGROUND Welcomes Wolfgang Carstens

I have been following Carstens' career even before he started publishing his poetry- but this has to be the most revealing & interesting interview & series of readings I have seen. Interviewer Todd Cirillo is affable & inquisitive- enabling Carsten to articulate his ideas about poetry in this 45 minute segment. The sound is clear and precise. Most importantly, Carstens reads 25 poems from a variety of his works, including several from his latest contribution- Hell & Highwater:

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Book Review: Rob Plath A Bellyful Anarchy (Epic Rites Press, 2009) 302 pages


In doing research for Rob Plath's latest 2017 releases IN ROT WE TRUST (graphic poems with Janne Karlsson) and Swallowtude (novel), I noticed my 2010 review of Plath's seminal work A Bellyful of Anarchy was no longer available on BM. I wrote the review in Brisbane where I was helping a friend who was recovering from major back surgery.  I repost it here for those unfamiliar with this outstanding poetry collection:

Plath is a significant figure in the American small press and I found his first full collection of poetry 'a bellyful of anarchy' to be highly accessible and entertaining. This is a hugely ambitious book written in free verse. The book is divided into nine sections with each loosely focused on a central theme exploring many of Plath’s favourite topics: death, how bent a species we are, growing up, cats, writing about his poetics and the usefulness of his middle finger in expressing all of the above.

The book’s title ‘a bellyful of anarchy’ refers to Plath’s underlying intent. He questions the illusory values of the American Dream and imagines a world where 2x2= nothing. In ‘laughing dust’ he mentions that his truest desire’ is for his poems ‘to enter the blood of/ some readers/ egg them on/ to chaos.’ In ‘verbal demolition’ he expresses a desire to write books that are ‘true pamphlets of chaos’. Plath’s revels in the chaotic and constantly challenges the reader to confront the reality of existence- to see the skeleton beneath the ‘torn flap’ of humanity. He flings the reader into the abyss and ‘like brain surgery’ buzzes the top of our heads off and leaves us flailing in a world gone wrong. Plath provides no answers but points us to where ‘the human meat hooks’ and ‘that battered ball of worms’ can be discovered. In ‘verbal demolition’ Plath concludes:

i wanna write books that make people ignite
my pages, smear the ashes beneath their eyes
like war-paint & go out to scalp
the false wig from society’s vain skull

Plath’s main strength as an imaginative writer lies in his mastery of metaphor and he deliberately sets out to carve his sentences into the reader’s flesh. In ‘Illuminations from the bottom of the meat carousel’ he aptly sums up his ideology:

these sentences are scalpels & pliers
performing body-length incisions
& peeling the trouble-making skin off

revealing the red striped musculature
then finally the shining skeleton

In his writing Plath metaphorically strips back all pretense and enters a dark world where he explores suffering and the underlying certainty of death. He appears to see everything as possessing a hidden reality and its revelation is the only thing that truly matters to him. In the compelling poem ‘incoming nails’ the speaker explains how the torture of everyday life is preferable to living the lies of others:

a lot of days I feel I am w/in
these thin walls
my flesh ripped by the sharp points
of incoming nails

but somehow it’s better than rubbing shoulders
w/the crowds of perfumed corpses
walking the streets.

One of the most interesting sections of the book is ‘pistol-whipping my angel’ where Plath furthers his nihilistic and existential views. Life to Plath is ‘mostly a murder fest’ viewed by an indifferent, taunting and sometimes evil god. In ‘mother’, reflecting on the loss of his mother, the persona of the poem, presumably Plath, morosely concludes:

a good god would have spared
us these unliftable burdens.

i stare at the umbra-
the blackest part of
a shadow.

it is not yr departure i see
but rather god’s eye.

jet & full of nothing.

In ‘god is a bad shoemaker’ Plath playfully mocks the concept of god and the idea that ‘god’ would have created such a tortured and grotesque being as himself. Similarly, in ‘god is a drunken tailor’ he posits:

god, yr a bad tailor
were you drunk
when you sketched
my earthly clothes?

Plath views religion as ‘the vatican lenses’, as another obstruction society throws up to shield people from realising who they really are. In ‘the cataracts of conformity’ the speaker of the poem falls into a ditch and upon looking up:

everything was illuminated
i’d found what the
world was keeping me from
discovering-
i was my own god

In one of the book’s most powerful poems ‘let there be snow’ this image of the poet being a god is furthered. In describing the preparation and horrific aftermath of an abortion Plath writes, ‘just she & I alone in this universe/ two gods unmaking a life’.

Despite the dark words of despair there is always an uplifting sense of joy which derives from Plath’s constant playfulness with language. Behind the noose and the rotting flesh there is always Plath the magician juggling the alphabet, devising new and striking ways to express himself and the world he inhabits. Some of his best poems appear to work randomly, as a sort of personal quest to intuitively develop interesting combinations of words and images. In ‘for a friend who is feeling deranged’ Plath starts with a playful couplet, ‘play jumprope/ w/yr colon’ and the poem quickly evolves, skipping from one set of juxtaposed ideas to the next in a smooth transition.

Another personal favourite is ‘the universe is a rape baby’ which progresses as a series of apparently random but interlocking thoughts. In this poem Plath applies his chaos theory to the max. The result is a profound and hilarious poem. Each stanza is an experiment, flaying the air, attempting to make sense of it all. Characteristically, Plath has the answer, tongue in cheek:

the big bang was the result
of god molesting the innocent void
the universe is a rape-baby

Despite the overall brilliance of Plath’s book, the collection has some minor blemishes. For one, its size is excessive. The book could have been reduced by fifty pages or so without detracting from its over-arching concerns. Many of the poems appear to be shuffled variations of others, much like a jazz musician restating an idea through improvisation. I would have also preferred a larger font size. Like most readers I’m used to reading size 12. The font in this book is actually size 8. It was chosen by Epic Rites Press to keep the book at a manageable 300 pages. Shipping costs would have otherwise been prohibitive.

The book is filled with dozens of strong, highly memorable poems but one section ‘the solitaries & the swarming’ was particularly weak, and contributed to an uneven feel to the collection. Cats can metaphorically provide a counterpoint to the human condition, but I quickly lost interest in this section despite living with many over decades.

Plath is a talented and uncompromising poet. I admire his hatred of ambition, of capitalism, of calendars, how he sees ‘skyscrapers as hell’s erections’. I love his meta-fictional explorations into language, his clever dark plunging of the soul, his splashing of bile onto the page. But what keeps the 40 year-old New York City poet resiliently humping the alphabet? He answers this defiantly in ‘the golden zero sutra’:

so how does one keep
from being frayed alive?
how does one remain
in one’s body, untouched
by god, calendars, clocks?

but determined manhates ambition by flailing yr fists
by stabbing the air
w/ yr middle fingers

Buy it here: http://www.epicrites.org/

Sunday, December 3, 2017

New Release: Edited by Brenton Booth The Asylum Floor : Literature with a sledgehammer Issue #1 (Lulu, 2017) 94 pages


This new literary journal is edited by Sydney writer Brenton Booth and is devoted to “hard edged writing”. It features mainly poems and short stories by small press luminaries, such as, Wolfgang Carstens, Catfish McDaris, Matt Borczon, Janne Karlsson and Brenton Booth himself.  Perhaps the star of the collection is lesser known outlaw poet “James Decay”. A few previous poems from the Spokane resident can be found on-line in Gutter Eloquence and Midnight Lane Gallery- the latter which is linked below.

Booth explained to me yesterday the idea behind his journal The Asylum Floor: “I was going for something a little different with it. My intention was more pages by each writer to give a clearer picture of them. And to break free of the conservatism of publishing that chokes modern journals.” His only brief to the featured writers was simple, “It is anything goes, as long as it is well written. I told the contributors to only send me the stuff they would normally not bother sending because it says too much etc.”

The collection integrates the work of the six writers and includes many strong pieces. The emphasis is on character portraits and common underground themes, such as, substance abuse, explicit sex, suicide and the madness of everyday living. Interestingly, The Asylum Floor also includes the first published short stories by Epic Rites Press guru Wolf Carstens, the best being “The Mauler”.

Booth is “really not sure if there will ever be another issue” of the journal. “If there is, it will be an annual thing.” This project is ambitious and Booth has stuck his neck out, solidifying his position as a leading Australian underground writer and now editor.

Brenton Booth is interviewed by Marcia Epstein on Talk With ME: https://player.fm/series/talk-with-me/brenton-booth-writer (Booth talks about his writing history and processes and reads several of his poems. The audio is dodgy from the Australian feed and you need to be patient to preservere).

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

New Release: Wayne F. Burke Poems From the Planet Crouton (Epic Rites Press, 2017) 26 pages


Wayne F. Burke’s latest poetry collection forms part of Epic Rites Press's 2017 Punk Chapbook Poetry Series. The chap includes 14 of Burke’s poems which provide the reader with a small taste of his stuff. The free verse narrative poems are easy to follow and tend to careen towards an exploration of the underlying sexual tensions, violence and hatred Burke sees in his world.

Burke recently explained to me, “The title refers to a state of alienation—being on the margin—sort of far out—odd even, or at least different from so-called “normal,” the quotidian. Coming from a place on the fringe, personally and aesthetically.” These poems certainly come from the edge- from the homeless, the abused, the young, the criminally insane- those without power and without a heart beat of hope.

The opening poem ‘Slip’ is characteristic of how Burke uses a personal anecdote from his past to rev open- in a splintered way- an obnoxious, drunken night out:

Slip

It was Veteran’s Day
and although I am not a vet
(my father was)
I decided to go out for a drink
even though
I was on probation
and not supposed to drink
alcohol
and I went out to the bar
where I got drunk
and started to insult people,
asking a guy if he was with his girl
or a dog;
calling a waitress “dumb bunny,”
interrupting a conversation between two girls
and when ignored
telling them to go somewhere
and “finger each other,”
after which I was told to leave
but I was not done
and on my way out
grabbed a guy by the collar and
yanked him off his stool
and then found myself in the middle of a pile-up
of people
I had to fight my way through
to get to the door
and out
onto the sidewalk
where a siren I’d already heard
grew louder
and I started to run
like a son of a bitch
down an alleyway
and ran off the top of
a stonewall
and dropped
twenty feet
into the river
cold as ice cubes
and the shock
I swam to the bridge
I hid under in the shadow
until things cooled down
I started to climb out
up the stonewall
but lost my grip
and fell back
into the drink
and got scared
I had to get out of there
or freeze to death
I stated the climb again
my numb hands
the cold rock
almost to the top
the hands would not hold
the wall collapsed
and I landed back in the icy stew
I started to yell “Help!
Help me!”
Lights in an apartment building
over the river
came on
someone shouted from a window
a man and woman
showed up with
a rope
they threw down
and hauled me up
and the woman
asked if she could help
and I asked her to go out
with me
and she said “no”
and I walked away
over the snow-covered sidewalk
and toward my room
to the rooming house,
my shoes squishing with each step.

(reprinted with the poet’s permission)


Find out more information about how to buy Poems From the Planet Crouton as part of Epic Rites Press’s  2017 Punk Chapbook Series here: http://www.epicrites.org/punk-chapbook-series.html


Purchase 4 major collections by Wayne F. Burke from BareBackPress here: http://www.barebackpress.com/index.html