Category: Nic Walker

BEAST by Frances Justine Post

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Frances Justine Post’s BEAST is dangerous. I say this not to invoke the cheap thrills of a horror flick—the danger of BEAST stems from Post’s chilling preciseness and authority. With a mixture of macabre imagery and charming seductiveness, BEAST weaves a complex tapestry of visceral emotion and self-actualization that stays with you long after the final poem. She warns us from the beginning that she’s ready to attack:

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In BEAST, there is no sense of past, present, or future, but a continuum of experience. People who are gone have never actually left, and linger Post’s fantastical world like dark matter. They follow Post like ghosts as she investigates her world, attempting to see herself in its horrible beauty. In “Self-Portrait in the Body of a Whale,” she steps into the whale with infallible curiosity:

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Injury becomes a universal truth, something both she and the whale can experience equally. Post wants to embody not only her own injury, but also the world’s, moving from body to body in order to live that truth. In “Self-Portrait as the Crumbs You Dropped,” she moves quickly from the crumbs to the crows who eat them, rapidly pulsing herself through the rest of the world:

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These creatures and discards of life give voice and substance to the namelessness of anguish and loss, the aftermath of devastation Post pours onto the page. What’s unnamable become things we can follow with our gaze, both lust over and fear.

BEAST ends in a gothic climax, and walks the line between violence and artistry. In “Self Portrait as Cannibal” Post becomes the ultimate, animalistic human, a cannibal reflecting on and cherishing her victim’s body. The self-portrait is both eerie and terrifying, without becoming a gory indulgence.

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Despite being in the same space as a cannibal, Post invoked more admiration in me than fear. There’s an esoteric beauty in the way she peels a human of its life, taking it into her like a spiritual fruit. BEAST makes me consider the archetypes of my own anger and sadness, and the fury compacts them. A terrifying love pours forth in these poems, and one can’t help but fall for such a luxurious feasting.

BEAST is available from Augury Books

Nic Walker lives in Houston, TX and has an MFA in poetry from University of Houston. She currently teaches at Lone Star Community College. Her work can be found in Southern Humanities Review.

The Hand of the Poet by Yuko Otomo

Screen shot 2014-06-22 at 6.22.28 PMI’ve been a Houstonian for nearly a decade, and have spent the entirety living down the street from the Museum District. Living in such close proximity to both fantastic permanent and rotating exhibitions and exhibits leaves me with no excuse not to spend hours in hall after reverberant hall. I declare an exhibit “good” if at the end I feel like Alice after her tumble down the rabbit hole. I’ve fallen further away from the world I know, deeper into a new reality that is not entirely mine, but not entirely alien.

Yuko Otomo’s The Hand of the Poet epitomizes this blur we experience between our selves and our art. Or, in Otomo’s case, the poetry and the hands that write it. Her poems were inspired by the New York Public Library’s exhibition “The Hand of the Poet: Original Manuscripts by 100 Masters.” Otomo places herself within the pages and minds of the world’s most famous poets as she gazes into each written page, each written word. She is most successful when the line between herself and the poet she is speaking of disappears.

The collection begins as a surface examination of the poets’ manuscripts. The first poem, “William Blake,” very much registers an observational tone; she describes precisely what she sees, with only a bit of musing:

I stuck my head
in between
pages of poetic spirit engraved

[. . .]

a dream
reoccurs
not to pull anyone down
but to help one breathe
a bit lighter

To use this same technique for all twenty-eight poets would lack much dynamism, so Otomo instead transforms with each poem, getting gradually swept into the manuscripts and their poets. As any art-lover transforms in the midst of an inspiring museum exhibit, Otomo goes from very much a part of the real world to a state in which she has forgotten the world outside. She struggles alongside the artists she writes of, wrestling even.

A poem in which I especially noted a blur between her and the poet is “Stanley Kunitz.” Otomo mirrors Kunitz’s quiet placement of one word after another, not forcing her poem into any direction or with any agenda. She ends,

a poem will breathe its own life
if it has one

It isn’t necessary to know who Kunitz is as a reference, or to measure up Otomo’s words against his, because the poem stands on its own. It is the wisdom she takes from Kunitz and plants within her own gaze, not merely his clothing that she tries on temporarily.

By the end of the chapbook, it seems that Otomo has intimate relationships with the poets whose manuscripts she is gazing at, and into. She even begins to take on the emotional temperament of the poets. In the poem “e.e. cummings,” Otomo writes in a very cummings-ish air, both carefree and melancholy:

Dear
Edward
Estlin

thank you for
a heart-shaped elephant

although an elephant is not my favorite animal

I will cherish it
for
ever.

It is not up to Otomo what she sees in each poet’s manuscript. She was simply given their thoughts and movements on the page, captured and frozen in time. But by filtering them through the lens of her perception, Otomo transforms the poets’ visions and voices into her own. She leaves the exhibit still herself, but also a little bit not-herself. The Hand of the Poet is Otomo’s vessel for the poets still alive on the page.

The Hand of the Poet is available for free from Ugly Duckling Presse

Nic Walker lives in Houston, TX and has an MFA in poetry from University of Houston. She currently teaches at Lone Star Community College. Her work can be found in Southern Humanities Review.