New Snakes

Elizabeth Pusack

A round-up of some recent small-press plums to inspire resolve in the Year of the Snake.

Eyelid Lick by Donald Dunbar

Portland darling Donald Dunbar’s debut book—and Fence Modern Poets Prize Winner for 2012—crosses the blood-brain barrier like a psychotropic. It’s full of apparitions like Angela, who’s really sexy, but also scary, and always-changing, like into a hundred million dollars. Eyelid Lick is full of fevered confessions, fractured tables of contents to undisclosed books, stunts like a whole page stunned speechless but studded with asterisks, and an“Author’s Note” that leaves you exactly where it wants you, less oriented than ever. Thus reads one of Eyelid Lick’s many letters to God in it’s entirety: “Dear God, / You’ve got A) a pinecone B) a A) a pinecone A) a pinecone B) oh. no.”

This book made me feel glitchy, which was a total joy. Dunbar helps you experience erratic circuitry, loans you a freaky new data processor. But the book is not just trippy. I found it also has a lot of beautiful stuff to say about love and lust: “Dearest Bri, the air is twice as deep, and / yet I suck it down, for you, though I know / it drown me,” and also a lot of especially lucid things to say about America. “Dear Bri,” reads yet another letter, “There’s something you should know. I’m guilty of everything. The systematic diminishment of another. Supporting a culture of sadistic and malicious violence. Captured on video kicking a handcuffed inmate in the head.”

You can’t live in agony or ecstasy forever, but you can read Eyelid Lick!


Hider Roser by Ben Mirov

Who to our wondering eyes should show up in Ben Mirov’s latest book of poems Hider Roser, but Ben Mirov, wearing his full name! Each time “Ben Mirov” or his shadow “Ben Mirror” appears in a poem it’s like somebody’s psyche pinching his flesh-and-blood self, but kindly, to be sure it’s still there and doing OK. Ben Mirov is looking out for Ben Mirov, and for the rest of us. The poem “The Poem Addresses Ben Mirov in a State of Inconsolable Grief” it turns out, is an excellent example of how the book consoles even the apparently-inconsolable, often by goofing and teaching in tandem like a wise fool: “Return to your bone./ Park your star in the garage. / Go back in tide and climb into sled. Try not to think about / Amanda’s amputated nest / or the broom where Greg / cradled a nun in his hands.

“Snowliloquy” claims loneliness isn’t nothingness but “Snowbody / touching your thigh,” or “Snowbody / chopping the peppers.” I loved Snowbody at first sight. Mirov sometimes puns through heartbreak, but he doesn’t void heartbreak, which is important, because his poems also show how vulnerability can be constructive. The vulnerable are sensitive. Heightened awareness sometimes stinks, but sometimes it helps you see something wonderful. “For the Faint of Heart” offers this advice: “When you return from the asylum / be sure to gaze at the trees / covered in snow. / When the train / enters the tunnel ask the waiter / for tea with milk. When in darkness / take seriously the lesson / of fluttering hands.”


The End of Space by Albert Goldbarth

Poet and space-toy connoisseur Albert Goldbarth’s latest work, a ten-part prose poem called The End of Space, is an elegy for the N.A.S.A space shuttle program (1981-2011) and a meditation on human aspiration ad astra. “Up—the compulsion is up,” writes Goldbarth, as he examines humankind’s many storied relationships with the celestial sphere. His dreamers and pilgrims include Nebuchadnezzar, Daedalus, Ray Bradbury, John Glenn, and Buck Rogers, from whom the poet borrows the following sentiment: “The enemy of every boy is gravity.”

Goldbarth welcomes one ordinary little girl at odds with gravity into the work as well. Stella is an infant, sliding “almost effortlessly, on a small wing of birth blood—into this life below a rural Massachusetts sky in which the stars seemed bent as close as apples for picking,” then an aspiring astronaut, later a member of the shuttle mechanical crew, still later an ovarian cancer survivor, a divorcée, and finally a woman standing by the sea at her nation’s edge. She is earth-bound and unmistakably mortal, but awash in the same wonder and quest for knowledge that spurred America’s sending a man to the moon. One of the book’s most important revelations comes as wisdom she carries within her: “there are many ‘frontiers,’ all of them excitingly virgin terrain; and all demanding a valorous heart and a beveled intelligence.” These lines make me remember all the physicists, poets, doctors, and composers, who as children may have wished on stars to grow up John Glenns and whose work on their own frontiers has kept me alive or made my life worth living.

I so admire Goldbarth’s facility in flowing from righteous indignation about Facebook or “the medical industries fatal nincompooperies” to clear-eyed scholarship, from starlit storytelling to the self-reflective “talkiness” he is most famous for, and with which he faces his own frontier as the book nears its close. In section nine he announces the projects towards which the moon propels him. He’s no astronaut:

When I say that I want to fly to the moon, I mean…what exactly? Not that I want to be strapped inside a tin can shot by blammo-power into the realm of zero-gees and danger. What, are you crazy? There’s not Dramamine enough in the world to entice me…I mean…I want to write a poem that’s good enough to endure beyond my own bodily life; I want to work at a marriage that’s finally larger and more luminous than either myself or my wife as individuals; and I want to live in a country I can be proud of, under leaders who represent me, and who fund a future that’s good enough to endure beyond our own national identity. When I look above Wichita, Kansas, to the nightshine overhead, I find a language for this, beyond English.”

Goldbarth also authored the first installment of Tavern Books’ groovy new subscription series The Honest Pint!


Message to Adolf (Parts I and II) by Osamu Tezuka

First serialized as Adorufu Ni Tusgu in a Japanese newsmagazine in the mid-eighties, manga-legend (God) Osamu Tezuka’s Message to Adolf has long been out of print in an English-edition, but Vertical Inc., which publishes a really wacky range of Japanese pop, literature in translation, including bento cookbooks–now offers this war epic “flipped” to fit an American audience. These two honking, sherbet-toned tomes, the second of which was released in December, are certain to lure eyeballs if you read on public transport (See accompanying graphic). Adolf chases Adolfs Hitler, Kamil, and Kaufmann from the 1936 Berlin Olympics to the grave.

The story chronicles the second world war really well, and its final chapters even carry the intrigue through the founding of Israel and the subsequent Israeli-Palestinian conflict, all the way to 1983. Neither the tyrant, nor the German-Jew exiled in Japan, nor his best friend the German-Japanese Hitler Youth turned Gestapo-officer turned Palestinian Liberation Front fighter are denied measures of both humanity and monstrosity. There’s a lot of love, unfailing hope and self-sacrifice here, but unlike Hider Roser, this one’s not for the faint of heart. It’s also full of sexual violence and Tarantino-style vengeance. The plot is fueled, a little unconvincingly, by the fate of a set of documents which prove the famous Adolf’s Jewish patrilineage, but Tezuka’s drawings and his dizzying swings between tenderness and terror are what really drive Adolf. Still skeptical? The gaming site IGN, which so wisely considers Ocarina of Time a perfect video game, also calls Adolf “The perfect choice for those who don’t normally read manga.” Is that you?

Elizabeth Pusack was born and raised in Iowa City, Iowa. She graduated from Smith College in Northampton, MA in 2009, having studied Comparative Literature and Book Arts. She then spent a year in Vienna, Austria researching long-lost diaries before moving to Portland in 2010. She works at the children’s book store Green Bean Books, letterpress prints, and is a frequent contributor to The Open Bar.