Occasionally, we get the opportunity to share our thoughts on the outside work of our past contributors, as well as other projects that we think would interest readers of A cappella Zoo. To send something for possible review, especially new work relevant to magic realism and slipstream, email us at editorATacappellazoo.com.
Poems (e-chapbook) by Kristine Ong Muslim. Silkworms Ink, Dec 2010.
You could call Muslim’s poems “graphic” because she populates them with dismembered body parts; or because even her G-rated images are described in vivid detail; or because they are poems of words which are composed of graphic symbols as all poems are, as all writing is. In this way Muslim’s chapbook title loudly identifies with horror films and graphic novels while quietly affirming her own written medium and claiming kinship with all who have ever scrawled anything anywhere. So I was not surprised by “dead girl” in the first poem, hiding her body parts around the house. “Mary of the Tunnels” soaks her feet in “the black river of piss”. I met a schizophrenic, a sociopath, a stalker and was reminded that even “The Pilot” must take a psych eval “every six months”—sanity is so rare and fleeting in this world.
I’ll admit I was surprised by “William Carlos Williams, in retrospect”, although I shouldn’t have been. Given the primacy of the image in Muslim’s work, it makes sense that she would consider him a touchstone. In this poem, Muslim discusses her own reading of WCW: “I have missed this: the upturned trough / where the white chickens bend down // to drink.” Here Muslim affirms the centrality of the image, though not the image contained in the poem. Instead she offers an image that WCW’s poem inspired in her mind as a returning reader. Muslim covers that famous red wheelbarrow with cow dung, an illustration of how her own aesthetic veers from WCW: what he sees as simply beautiful, she sees as easily, perhaps inherently, befouled. With this single poem, Muslim establishes the importance of reading and rereading creatively, with one’s own imagination filling in the blanks. Which means you should feel free to do the same with Graphic. Pretend that every line describes a panel in a graphic novel. Or that Muslim wrote each poem while playing and replaying colorized Alfred Hitchcock scenes. Or google Steven Rhude. Imagine he has a painting for each of the 19 poems, not just “Red house in the middle of the road.”
While image is king in this world, Muslim also knows how to create a soundtrack with words alone: “Here is the frying hand, handcuffed hand, / blistered hand, callused hand, bloody hand.” A number of her poems hint at the music of nursery rhymes: “Dead girl taps on the door, eases it open. // Daylight is a line across the hardwood floor.” I find this a perfect tonal choice for Graphic because nothing adds to creep factor like the whispers of children, and Muslim’s e-chap is graphically creepy.
As for presentation, this e-chapbook, like all e-chaps from Silkworms Ink, has abandoned the idea of pages for the single scroll screen. It makes the book easy to access, but less aesthetically pleasing. There is no nod to the page-turning so loved by book fetishists and no innovation here that makes abandoning the centuries old form a pleasure or an excitement. Silkworms Ink has chosen a purely and minimally functional form for their e-chapbooks, so visit Graphic’s page expecting to be engaged by Muslim’s words without any frills.
—Lisa McCool-Grime, poetry reader, A CAPPELLA ZOO
© 2011 A CAPPELLA ZOO and respective reviewers