Exquisite Monsters, K. I. Press’ fourth poetry collection, muses on birth, parenthood, depression and suburban life. Ostensibly described as pop-culture-meets parenting, Press’ pop references are the side dishes as often as they are the main course.
The title track, “Exquisite Monster,” is the 15-page monster at the end of the book. Press divides each page of “Monster” into thirds, separable by perforated edges, so the reader can choose their own stanzas. A reader’s initial reaction may be that this is heinously creative and impenetrable. “Monster”, though, is the poetical version of a Choose Your Own Adventure book from the 1980s. This allows for many delightful and creepy multiple readings, if a little forced. Press knows how to give the reader disquieting fun. The poem is a phantasmagoric trip through a carnival sideshow of oddities, dizzying and discomfiting the reader to great effect (“Look quick to notice its forked tongue / But it is hard not to hear its mellifluous melody”).
Aside from this beast’s touchstones of the macabre and morbid, from mentioning a vampire’s widow’s peak to bees radiating from halo hair, other overt pop culture references inhabit Monsters. Press ponders missing a T.V. series finale while giving birth in “The Feast of the Series Finale of Battlestar Galactica,” part of a five-poem series called “Birthday Calendar.” This juxtaposition of fantasy and reality is part review, part bitter pill, part journal entry, and part ambiguous perspective on what one values in life—escapism or bringing life into the world. “Nancy Drew Got Married,” a delightful, spirited romp, imagines the teen detective as a retired, martini-swilling lush. In the entertaining and truthful “A Genre Story,” Press aims squarely at the depiction of women in speculative fiction and action/comic book blockbusters.
Along with the pop pastiche, however, builds a certain dread—much like the dread that inhabits some of the speculative fiction Press comments on. This sense of fatalism, an astonishing undercurrent, counterbalances the mixed collection. In “Parenthood,” Press writes “When I went to Scotland, I saw in Bonnyrigg / More teen mothers than even in Winnipeg.” This line, delivered in a seemingly callous manner and reminiscent of a Scottish drinking song, articulates sincere dismay about rampant teen pregnancy. The poem series “Phantom Siblings” features unsettling vignettes of whom or what might have been.
Themes run dark and deep here. “The Land of the Dread” accurately telegraphs the helplessness of depression. “Craft Time” describes in breathless caffeinated tones the mindset of a parent trucking through arts and crafts with their toddler. Press addresses unease about inhabiting upper-middle class status in “Halo” (“A bunch of clowns. The joke is / nothing is wrong with me. I am privileged and successful.”)
Colloquial line breaks and breathy cadence are typical of the voices in the work. From the murk of daily life, Press excavates abuse, depression and a pronounced fear of losing one’s identity, either from having to adapt to life in the suburbs, or through circumstance. “Mandragore” lays plain a fear not only of hallucination-inducing natural medicine, but the terror of being subsumed by suburbia:
Will I become one of those people?
You know, Mr. Mandrake—they complain
about property taxes?
Of course you will.
You chose this, and it is out of your control.
Such internal dialogue yields unsettling conversations with the other that Press dreads so much. Press examines, converses, and struggles with primordial fears of loss of individuality. That fear is perhaps the heart of Monsters—the fear of becoming the other, through raising another life or sensing your life transforming beyond your control. In that respect, this mixed collection of creatures speaks with clear and unfettered volume.
James K. Moran’s fiction and poetry have appeared in various Canadian, American and British publications, including Bywords, Glitterwolf: Halloween, Empty Mirror Magazine, Icarus, and On Spec. A longtime contributor to Daily Xtra, Moran’s articles and reviews have also appeared in various media, including Arc, Matrix Magazine, the Ottawa Citizen and Rue Morgue. He blogs at jameskmoran.blogspot.ca. Moran’s debut literary horror novel, Town & Train, was published by Lethe Press in 2014.
ARC‘S WATERS RUN DARK—AND DEEP!