Category: Chris Caruso

REVIEW: Beast Feast by Cody-Rose Clevidence



by Chris Caruso

Language allows the “I” to create a separation between the interior and the other –nature, beasts, lover, etc.—a process to draw distinctions and through that create a form of possession. This is the ghost of Adam’s placing names and roles upon all found in the Garden. It is through language stories are told, histories recounted, myths born, and poetry written. All of this implies a human imposing ones identity and knowledge upon the world. In Cody Rose Clevidence’s Beast Feast, a disruption occurs. The distinctions between human and animal, self and nature, language and meaning are all but dissolved throughout the collection. These poems force the reader to exist and become lost amongst the destabilized landscape.

It is in this process the “I” this concept of self is weakened to the point of evanescence- a transparent silhouette that tenuously grasps to the self-affirmation of knowledge that language is assumed to offer. The human and the beast melt into each other. Where the language and thoughts of one begin and end becomes increasingly difficult as the collection progresses. The result is an “I” that is not singular or completely human. It is in this tension where the Beast attempts to understand the language of poetry and civilization which imposes itself upon the natural world. As a reader one must seek order and meaning amongst a landscape in which the logic of the civilized world is confusion and misunderstanding thrive. These attempts at capturing meaning are constantly challenged. The poem[ZYG] captures this confusion, this displacement of the conventions of communication.











The poems in this collection are an evolution from the classical concepts of self and language into a world in which identity is unstable and shifting. The Metamorphosis series which can be assumed is a direct reference to Ovid’s work, further calls into question of how one is to interact within the world and changed by it.

“TRANS/IS LUCENT “EYEBALL’D” HAIRY NIGHT <FELT>//…is this a gated garden is this ambivalent is this a penultimate river/this is a mutant form of something I’ve seen before, leave it//…is this or isn’t it a way of changing perception is this in order, is this the order/or is it ordinary in the half-light or it is revolting…it is molting it is releasing some shimmering body into the hands of the state.”

Much like Ovid, the narrative is one of the shifting of forms of what a body is and how it is engaged and influenced. Is the “I” a human in animal form, or Beast that is playing a role at humanity? This is where the beauty and the challenge of the text occur. The pastoral is ruptured as the industry of humanity bleeds into nature. The poem is no longer a means to reflect on the tranquility of that beyond the city, but instead how civilization and nature clash, the uncertainty of identity that erupts from that.






This is one of the strengths of the collection, the uncertainty, the movement towards an attempt to understand. The audience is forced into a strange land with no guide or sense of direction. We are lost as an attempt to organize to find form, which has been stripped of the features that are relied upon to give meaning. These poems are not static words, but the living and growing experience of the Beast. A disruption where even the most simple sounding line, becomes a quagmire of uncertainty. “THIS IS THE FOREST” Such a simple line that highlights the complexity of this text, what is the forest? What isn’t and who or what inhabits it? It is Clevidence’s ability to draw attention to the struggle of poetry to express experience and knowledge. This struggle is what makes this collection an entity that can never be held in place, but offers slivers of understanding with each encounter. The result is the knowledge of the fragility of the self’s ability to identify and how quickly meaning is erased. The deterministic nature of poetry to express is corroded. What is left “trumps a psychological truth no trumpet relentless no weary shall no shelter.”

Ahsata Press: $18.00

Chris Caruso is a poet with MFA’s from Rutgers Newark and Boise State University. He is fascinated with the limits and transgressions of borders/boundaries especially the margins between words and images.

REVIEW: Sleeper Hold by Jibade-Khalil Huffman

by Chris Caruso

With the issue of racism, violence, and inequality at the forefront of national attention, Sleeper Hold, Jibade-Khalil Huffman’s third collection, adds another voice to the discussion. Huffman’s poems avoid much of vitriol and political opportunism and grandstanding found in the news. Instead, an “I” offers up flecks of narrative and antecedents and, unlike so many other texts that deal with these subjects, his vernacular doesn’t require one to have an advance degree to access his work. While the language might be simple, the poems themselves are complex in how the philosophical is mixed with “low brow” culture. The “I” that speaks is in a process of searching for place and value amongst the distractions found in media, catch phrases, and the addictions of daily life. The awareness of a discussion on race does not exist in a sealed off environment, sterile of the lives and experiences of population in which they relate to.

On the first day

of the poem

we perform

a trust exercise

These lines that open the collection allow Huffman to address the limitations of poetry and at the same time speak to the necessity of poetry to accomplish his task. He is aware that despite how the poem allows one to “start dancing in the street,” there is artificiality present. Even if one is writing a poem, there is a system in place that forces one to “adopt the speech/of a telemarketer”. Despite the illusion of assimilation, the “I” is still an outsider where 

the Star Spangled Banner.
On the surface of nature

is an argument

for crying your eyes out.

It is in this tension between the ideal of America versus the reality which the title of the collection addresses. Sleeper Hold draws upon the desires of a compliant populace to be distracted through entertainment, scandals, and various political actions perpetuated through the media, to keep distractions at the forefront instead of an awareness that might alter the condition that infects society. The title also refers to a trope found in professional wrestling. The sleeper hold is a modified choke hold performed by flamboyant characters in spandex battles between archetypal roles of heroes and villains. It is used to subdue the opponent, strangling them into submission. The title also alludes to racism, in that non-white wrestlers were often found to perform characters as savages or minstrels. This theme of being strangled and beaten into submission is found throughout the book. What is disturbing is not that this occurs, but how willing the citizens are to accept it:


wrestling is an interesting case

because it can provide a spectacle

we can at once ignore


come back to.

At once ignore

and devote

our complete attention

Socially the title draws on corporate and government desires to keep the populace placid through the distractions the media. Much like in wrestling the populace finds themselves being strangled into submission to accept their roles and continue on the path for which that have been following. It falls to the “I” of the collection to disrupt this cycle, not through violence, or protest but through a questioning of the self and how the “I” fits into these various roles and ruts. “Poem for Cedric The Entertainer” encapsulates this tension between entertainment and a striving to address the underlying racism found in society. A dichotomy begins the poem between “White people/love the 1980s/Black people/can’t help/but strive for/more declarative sentences…My live/in the bush of ghosts” Huffman builds on these two declarative sentences where White people become jokes in and of themselves with absurd novelty hats, where Black people strive for more important concerns such as caring and supporting their wives. The short lines and declarative statements create a tension between the perception between races.

The main question of collection is, how can American society escape from the sleeper hold it finds itself in? The sleeper hold that attempts to choke out the importance and relevance of Black experience and struggles. It also looks to offer a path for which those bombarded with the sleeper hold of media and trivial can perceive the world and their actions, and break out of a cycle of cute ads and a rhetoric of oppression. These are poems of protest, not against certain groups of individual or races, but instead protest against a system the encourages and wishes to continue these divisive practices.

Fence Books: $15.95.

Chris Caruso is a poet with MFA’s from Rutgers Newark and Boise State University. He is fascinated with the limits and transgressions of borders/boundaries especially the margins between words and images.

Particle and Wave by Benjamin Landry

9780226096193I’ve been encountering a lot of what I call “science poetry” lately. These collections delve into a variety of science or scientific principles to act as the impetus for the poetry. On a theoretical level it is intriguing, this usurping of science’s logical claims to truth to reformat them into the uncertain and undefinable realm of poetry. These “science poems” when successful present the abstractions of life and experience hidden amongst the definable mechanics of the sciences. Benjamin Landry’s first collection Particle and Wave attains this metamorphosis. The Periodic Table acts as an exploration of mythology, family history, and an interrogation of poetry. Landry’s poems offer an experience that is not rigidly fixed in one defining moment. Instead his collection shows a constant erasing of boundaries and negation of accepted knowledge. This destabilization erases what is believed known and calls into question the history leading to the present moment. The structures of the poems enhance this. He cycles through verse, prose, and erasures in a crafting of a theory which can ground his explorations.

Landry’s book is building the world which he inhabits. The atoms of the Periodic Table become much like the phoneme, a base component of creation. Whether is it a construction of language or the material world both atom and phoneme are the means to explain the existence of their respective objects. The poems however, subvert that and instead these origins are not viewed as proven fact, but more as a means by which to inquire. They reach towards uncertainty and hope for revelation. They accept that there are moments of history and memory that are absent or that never existed and it is this place the poems speak.

From Oxygen
The sound from the culvert
was not nothing.
It might have been the sound
of solider ants
clenching their mandibles
in their sleep, dreaming


of swaths of leaf
for cutting. Or


stars, perhaps,
skirtching across
night’s chalkboard.

Landry practices manufacturing mythology as a way to come to understanding, much like the Greek gods explained the sublime phenomena of nature. The first poem Hydrogen poses for the reader to:
“Imagine the heat generated/by Daphne transformed into laurel/and you can begin to feel /what the electron feels/in renouncing its steady orbit./…Daphne was, of course, an ordinary girl:/desires not especially volatile./ She, too, forgot her terror, nodded off/in the glow of a star appearing/to explode for billions of years. “

Daphne exists as both a person and the myth. She is the laurel tree and a symbol of poetry and the poet’s desire that cannot be possessed. Landry offers a passionate plea to close the gap between memory and the present, the poet and the poem, as well as the lover and the loved.
Metamorphosis becomes an engine through which these gaps can hope to be filled. The human experience becomes a series of crafting theories and the testing and rethinking of these theories. The poems avoid didactic and pedagogical pitfalls which could threaten a detached stance of a statement as opposed to immediacy of exploration. Instead, these poems are always struggling and interacting constantly maturing as the collection progresses.

I am particular drawn to the poems which explore poetry is and its role in society. They constantly draw attention to the malleability between physical and emotional experiences. It is in these poems; especially Ununoctium, where inquires posed by Landry about the human and the unknown meet on constantly shifting borders.

Everywhere one turns:
remarkable likenesses.

You speak to the dresses
in your closet as though
they were children.

The subconscious goes
and makes a deliberate mess
of things; and theory…

theory will have to suffice
for now.


Particle and Wave is availalbe from the University of Chicago Press

Chris Caruso is a poet with MFA’s from Rutgers Newark and Boise State University. He is fascinated with the limits and transgressions of borders/boundaries especially the margins between words and images. Chris is currently working on Fairy Tales interpreted through the Fibonacci sequence and a poetry collection that juxtaposes the anxiety bound in artistic creation against American Anxiety Post 9/11. Chris is also in the process of creating a blog to host a yearlong conceptual poetry/visual art project.

Dragon Logic by Stephanie Strickland

DragonCover-333x500The struggle in reviewing Stephanie Strickland’s Dragon Logic is the collection rejects traditional modes of defining. The text is an exploration of codes that are untranslatable and esoteric, which avoid the closure that is traditionally sought via the lyric. It is within this space the “I” hopes to discover the contours about the self and the separation between internal and external. The boundaries of selfhood verse what acts to remove said individuality becomes a sight of fragmentation. Mirroring this, the four sections of the book constantly take on new trajectories and focus as they splinter towards new subjects and possibilities. The result is a constant evasion of conclusion. Amidst so much uncertainty, Strickland offers control through her deft use of language and sound interlacing each poem through the musicality of her language.

These poems explore the Sublime. However it is no longer nature that ruptures the mind’s ability to understand. The terror is the inability of humanity to comprehend the advancements of technology—TV, Internet, 24 hour news cycles, etc.—that are progressing beyond their origins as tools of convenience. Dragon Logic is a world where technology and inventions have become more real than their inventors. CAPTCHA which is a program designed to determine if a visitor to a website is a human or a Spam-Bot now acts to erode the distinction.

in the log-on Lab World structured from permissions where
who hangs at your space from your space’s erased from you

nor can you take your own movement for granted…

shift—time to be swept back to sea so typed in mistakenly

(no peregrine eye) randomly assigned CAPTCHA squiggle
Turing test box of twisted-letter text to tag her
personhood denied

In an attempt to define and place separations on human creations, the creations actually begin to erase the creators. This becomes the location of inverting. Our inventions become the dragons which the title references, beasts that demanded sacrifices so that a kingdom may be spared. The virgins have been replaced by with self-identity. The secret, a code that is obscured, is how the self can survive these monsters of our own creation that turns the physical into an abstract.

The section “Dragon Maps” begins with a quote by Stanislaw Lem: “Everyone knows that dragons don’t exist…it does not suffice for the scientific mind.” Placing the dragons in categories of mythical, chimerical, and purely hypothetical Lem claims “They were all…nonexistent, but each nonexisted in an entirely different way”. This nonexistence that evades us, yet controls us can only be glanced at and talked around; it is here that abstract sciences of philosophy, mathematics, and Quantum Mechanics become the only method to give clarity and slay the dragons. The scientific becomes the site of emotion and of human experience. Here hints of Romanticism and the Pastoral appear envisioned through Quantum Theory.


after quantum mechanics
Nature went straight
all the possible states of any physical
object formed a linear space

after Gödel
archipelagoes of structure
fen full weedy fertile inexhaustible pod
of mathematical flowers

Abstract science is the medium through which the emotional core of the poem appears. The code-makers of these theories—such as Gödel, Schrödinger, and Yang—become mystics that avoid the advancing eradication of identity that Strickland’s poems are desperate to achieve. These individuals find themselves mythicized as deities and immortalized through their science. They retain their self-identity and become what the “I” of the poems attempts to speak with.

Strickland’s collection is a puzzle box for which no solution exists. Her poems demand re-reading as they constantly unfold with possibilities and new definitions. In refusing to define they offer the spaces that surround definition. The title highlights this uncertainty. Is Dragon Logic meant to question the logic of a belief in dragons? Is it a declaration of the reason put forth by dragons? Perhaps the title acts as juxtaposition between the mythical and scientific but does not answer which is real and which is fantasy. Belief and pre-conceived notions collapse. Strickland’s ability to prevent anything from being held as truth or dogma allows everything to become an object of inquiry in hopes a meaning can be found. She understands that shadows obscure the human and the world in which the human interacts. As a reader one should explore this world with her.

Dragon Logic is available from Ahsahta Press

Chris Caruso is a poet with MFA’s from Rutgers Newark and Boise State University. He is fascinated with the limits and transgressions of borders/boundaries especially the margins between words and images. Chris is currently working on Fairy Tales interpreted through the Fibonacci sequence and a poetry collection that juxtaposes the anxiety bound in artistic creation against American Anxiety Post 9/11. Chris is also in the process of creating a blog to host a yearlong conceptual poetry/visual art project.