Reviews, Vol. 2.4, Dec. 2008
Paper Hero Press, Achilles Chapbook Series, October 2008
Staple-bound, unnumbered, $4
Review by Cynthia Reeser
In prose that is both meandering and deceptively simple, Drew Kalbach’s chapbook The Zen of Chainsaws and Enormous Clippers, stakes out its territory. The images contained within this collection of prose poems can seem incohesive, but it doesn’t take long to realize that the totality of the effect is what is so intriguing. In the opening work, “Easy Days,” the patchwork of phrases bounce off of incongruous other phrases; images butt up against other images, seemingly indifferent to one another; but the language is evidently chosen for its interface with itself:
I count patches of dry skin and apply the correct fruit remedy: cucumbers for the eyes and strawberries for the lips.
Priest turns left at streaker, finds destination nearby.
. . . a rook sliding into check.
Sometimes the language lends itself to plays on logic, where, as in “The Hookah Lounge” and “Problems in the Missing Sock Logic,” there is the listing of consequence posing as the natural result of a non-consequential trigger (“The theft of a cell phone in Nantucket causes butterflies to drop dead in Indonesia.”) This presence of the avant-garde comes sometimes in punny forms that play at the occasional arbitrariness of everyday life, especially in “Another Arbitrary Line.” At times, such playful incongruity seems a reaction to the zeitgeist of counterculture.
The Zen of Chainsaws is an experience much like that described in “Look Twice Then Listen”: “My relationships continue like dodo birds blissfully tumbling down a cliff”; and later, “there is a caravan of ignored syllables chasing the light.” Kalbach’s language is cascading and acknowledges that there are more ways to create meaning than with a traditionally linear focus—sometimes it can be done by creating a feeling or collective sense that results when the dependence on light, on order, on traditionally-focused language is dissolved. In “Home is Somewhere Else,” Kalbach writes, “High beams are emblematic of the confusion deep darkness provides and how we think drowning in light is safety.”
The portion on the interior of the back flap, titled “From the Author,” is an autocommentary that reads, in part: “most people laugh when they read it but really i intended for them to say hmmm and have a very thoughtful and faroff look on their face.” Certainly Kalbach lives up to this intention—from “A Musicless Place” comes an example that should clear up any doubts:
…they gather all the singers into a large courtyard. A gunshot makes a perfect E flat, and the sound of a lute breaking against a tree is an A sharp major, though nobody is left to prove it.