Browsing Tag

Nightboat Books

Book Review

I Love It Though

by on March 22, 2018

I Love It Though by Alli Warren
Review by T.m. Lawson


Concern with humanity is thematic within I Love It Though, its tantalizing cover art of bright red paint and yarn knit intestines of some faux roadkill on the asphalt promising violence, or at least an overview of it once the dust has settled and blood has been drawn (so to speak.) The book itself is small, deceptive of the hardcore delights within its cream pages. The whole text acts like one big shiny red warning label: something is happening, be aware.

Alli Warren uses her poet’s eyes and dexterous tongue to force open the reader’s eyes and their mouths closed: “I sing of something that cannot speak its name” (“Tunics, Trousers, and Cloaks”). This “sentimental feeling” bleeds into “pre-pledged consent”, an echo of civil liberties slowly eroding away because of human feeling (fear, anger, confusion) in the face of danger and impossibility. In a post-truth world, protection comes from “self-pollution” of substance abuse and making “hole[s]”, and the more one lives “the more it sucks” as Warren’s generation and perhaps generations past ours will see that “[a]ll the evil things of the world will have full sway / To get dressed”, while Warren’s speaker needs “the help of a trained hand”. It is hard not to unsee the ailments that weigh my (and those that come after) generation down. Warren has a dystopic view of the world (or is it realism?) even through a glare of word choice and sharp turn of line. She blends in pastoral elements (ducks talking to flowers) next to gigantic thumbs who can either push down on the speaker, or “help” them up.

Warren’s “Protect Me From What I Want” is probably the most straightforward piece in the whole text. The repetition of “I did it” has an automatic feeling to it, like the factory line: “I did it, I did it” scrolling down the page. This brings to mind how much of technology has sped up our line of reasoning: there is no need for a preamble, just a clear and simple declaration. It also evokes a confessional aspect, the “I did it” a justification and reasoning as well as self-reflective and remorseful. On the flipside, it also contains a self-congratulatory social media veneer (‘look at what I did’). It feels like a list of self-affirmations, tautological in whether it is the speaker causing the action, or if it is the end result causing the initial action:

“I did it for the lulz […]
[…] for the universe it amused me
[…] for the cycle of escalation for the unbound acts I did it for the
surprise of what might be in them
[…] for the same reason as you for the free-play of my bodily and
mental activity for the pleasure of my friends
[…] for the idea of the middle class
[…] for the present tenses I did it for the herd
[…] for the terror of the totally plausible future”.

Another poem, “On the Levelers Everyday” (note: a leveler is the pedal a worker would push with their foot), the speaker seems to be an amalgamation of pig-like animal and empathetic human female. There is a question of relativity that sways back and forth like the pedaling of the foot, and the speaker poses this thought of balance:

Who can live, who gets to eat
what’s a sidewalk, what’s a street
Let’s loot the establishments
I mean feed each other

Like I mentioned in my last review for jos charles’ Safe Space, a sign of good poet is the ability to layer multiple meaning in their work. These four lines do that for me. On one hand, the speaker attempts to ignite social outrage and anarchy, and on the other, poses the Robin Hood argument to justify the words: to feed the poor. There is a disconnection of what civilization is, what it means to be civil, and just as the speaker is blurring the lines of between human and base animal physically, so it is mentally. There is judgment pending in these four lines on hunger, civility, human kindness and its primal tribal nature, and if a pecking order can come into play with all of these elements combined.

The idea of balance is an undercurrent to I Love It Though, a phrase with a history of overindulgence.  The title, much like Lebowski’s rug, is what ties the whole collection together. In my opinion, it states that human nature won’t (or perhaps, can’t) change. The speakers in this collection’s poetry are not so aimless as they are helpless in what they are able to affect and change around them. This world is “unworlding” and becoming unrecognizable as the elements of time, space, and even bodies and objects seem to warp and melt into each other, all becoming amalgamations and hybrid. Warren’s book is a lovesong to the pre-apocalyptic children who dance anyway, simply because that is the way they have learned joy. The speakers have only known normal as it began to fray into the strange, and so have normalized it. Like myths of a previous culture, these speakers recognize that there is a disconnect of tradition and expectation, of “propriety [turning] into property”, and to use humor and the grotesque as channels of translation for these “sentimental feelings”. A small book with a hefty punch to the gut is always my favorite.


I Love It Though is available now through Nightboat Books.

Book Review

The Consequences of My Body

by on March 23, 2017

The Consequences of My Body, by Maged Zaher


There is an assumption that a lot of us hold, myself included, that existence follows a linear progression. Sometimes, this manifests as an immediate experience of time dragging us forward through events we can only guess at. Sometimes it is more existential, such as believing one’s self to be part of a progressing humanity, the latest and most efficient thing yet produced by evolution. It is because of this assumption that works like The Consequences of My Body by Maghed Zaher prove incredibly valuable. At the heart of this poetry collection is an attempt to grapple with the question of personal importance, of relevance, legacy, and meaning. It is a quietly powerful work, at once beautifully afraid and resigned to its own momentum.

One of the first and most consistent thematic elements that appears throughout Consequences is romantic love. It appears in many facets, from the desire for sexual release to the capacity for distraction that love bears. The quality of the poetry is such that, were romantic love really the deepest idea being explored, the collection would be worthy of reading anyway. But as you immerse yourself in the text, you may begin to see that the beating question is not romantic love – it is whether or not you matter. To some, that distinction may be splitting hairs, particularly when the scope is limited to two people, but examine the fear that ghosts behind so many lines throughout the text.

Where do you want to meet on Wednesday? – I mean name the city – I will figure out something – tell me what time of the day works for you

Enough of this rambling – I will push send – you are insanely beautiful

It would be easy to write these off as the words of an over eager potential lover. But arguably the same speaker says the following as well.

Beneath the act of seeking / There is a void / Except that each death, dies / As it escapes the memories / Of the young

This is the voice of someone on the precipice, unable to look away from the vastness before them, and that vastness is beautiful and terrifying. It renders the love, the need for love, as not just an end in itself but the search for an anchor to some kind of stable reality. In a deeply personal and intimate way, Zaher’s poetry wades out into a river of identity and gets caught in the current. By mattering to someone, there is the potential to find meaning.

This exploration is not limited to the vehicle of love, either. Identity through political philosophy, racial heritage, national history, and spiritual experience are all sources of both solidarity and isolation.

I am a bad worshipper / Answering to the movement of the clouds / So easy to sit awaiting you

Lines like this again and again echo with a need to be noticed, a need to be acknowledged, even if through divine judgment. I don’t, by any stretch, mean that in a condescending way. We are a social species, after all. This is a humbling, empowering baring of vulnerabilities. Occasionally, that exposure is uncomfortable for even the reader, as there are more than a few glimpses of the obsession that such needs can become. This flavors the poetry with a tinge of mania that keeps it exciting and challenging, especially when considered with its repeated use of confessional tone.

I particularly enjoy the choice of title for this collection, The Consequences of My Body. The potential for meaning ranges wildly, from the question of whether or not the speaker exists beyond the physical shell, to the notion of legacy as a result of a life lived, to the effects on the self from having and pursuing desires. That spectrum of possibility reflects and encapsulates the poetry behind it, a fragment of iceberg betraying the expanse beneath it.


The Consequences of My Body is available now through Nightboat Books.