Poetry Review: Scary, No Scary

Scary, No Scary

By Zachary Schomburg

Published August 17, 2009

Black Ocean

80 pp.

ISBN 0-977-77099-0

Reviewed March 6, 2010

Zachary Schomburg’s Surrealist poems always seem best suited for night reading: a writing style that is dark and quiet, and speaks regularly about a particular kind of loneliness, the type that always seems to grip you hardest when you’re lying in bed. His critically acclaimed debut collection, “The Man Suit,” took that feeling into the dream world, full of playful and unhinged imagery, and now he’s gone deeper into the night with “Scary, No Scary.” These are poems which possess all the vivid “awake-ness” of a nightmare, where reality always seems most supple for molding and the extremes of our imaginations and fears don’t know whether to hug or punch each other.

Unlike “The Man Suit,” “Scary, No Scary” seems to follow one narrative, an attractive quality for non-poetry readers. All the poems are connected by an adolescent narrator over four parts, wandering through a dark and strange stretch of woods.  What he sees leans towards the absurd. People climb inside of wolves and they morph into beating hearts, hummingbird bones scatter across the page, and rivers fill up with lava and blood while jaguars gnaw hungrily on the horizon like it’s nothing but a bone. The images climb in and out of the poems as the book moves on, continually circling the narrator as he presses on in search of someone or something he can’t name in boats going nowhere.

Schomburg’s imagined landscape is decidedly post-apocalyptic, to the point that Verse‘s Timothy Henry casually alluded to “Scary, No Scary” as a more adventurous, psychedelic version of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.” The holes Schomburg’s words carve for us offer glimpses into a completely unmapped, unregulated world – unregulated at least by human standards. Our reign over order and space is quite obviously over. When buildings appear, they crumble to the touch and are greedily replaced by a new kind of nature, which thrives wildly, almost grotesquely:

“The clouds were not shaped like clouds/ A tree was blooming with broken hummingbirds instead of leaves. / Instead of a sun, a slow explosion” (This Is What You Need to Know About the World, Pretend Son).

Lightness and darkness, our most basic symbols of time and the order that goes with it, are unpredictable, overwhelming the narrator as he moves through the mega fauna forest:

“I climb the trees / through 1000 rooms. / I look for you / in each of them / You’re a long shiny line” (Abandoned Hotel).

The narrator’s journey is made more difficult by the fact that people, like the weathered buildings, have been stripped of their humanity. Typical means of language have either been lost or forgotten, and there are no names or proper speech:

“Is this your beating heart I asked. She didn’t answer. She didn’t have a larynx. She didn’t even have a thorax. / She didn’t have anything. Not even arms or legs or a head. She / really wasn’t a woman as much as she was the space between dead leaves” (I Found A Beating Heart Half-Buried In The Woods).

What we lose, nature seems to gain. Trees are the ones who bleed. Our legacy is in danger:

“We have a daughter / who was never born. / She lives in the house we never built” (New Kind of Light).

A reader might wonder what exactly Schomburg is looking for in a desolate, post-apocalyptic setting, and what the speaker is looking for. This place quickly and easily strips the narrator and the language of the meaning it had in the world we know, leaving us to wonder what could possibly be left. But “Scary, No Scary” pushes the reader to find the surprise and poignancy in that nothingness. With the walls between them gone, horror and delight are bound to run close together.

I really can’t think of better way to embody the line between such high, seemingly contradictory emotions than a teenager. Everyone is childlike in the book. When the narrator meets a group of men, they speak in a language of nonsense, full of “Na na na na kya kya kya” (A Horrible Flood of Love).

It strikes me that at this particular stage of life an adolescent might just as well find the “normal” world equally as terrifying and electrifying as this post-apocalyptic one. A teenager is a being at once both decaying and growing in strange, new ways, caught between instinct and civilization, and naturally isolated by such in-betweenness. However, the teenager’s behavior, even in a world that is supposedly turned upside down, remains predictable in some ways a reader will recognize.  He’s impulsive, wide-eyed, unsure, and hell-bent on getting some.

“I’ll show you the cave / where all the bats comes from. / You’ll show me that place / between your knees / where my hand goes” (The Pond)

Even if the world is “an old parade unhinging,” where not even sex can produce any kind of life, the narrator’s efforts sentiments and search remains powerful.

“When the bats / break / from the mouth of / the cave / hold on tight / to my waist.”

The genius I find in Schomburg’s particular brand of surrealism is that his images soar up and out of some lost galaxy of imagination that seems so unreachable, and yet, you will still feel touched in familiar places. This book is everything I remember about being in the woods as a kid. A rustle of leaves was never a deer. A brief wave of a tree was never just hello. The third section, entitled Histories, which is on its most obvious level is an exercise in the logic of reality, seems to speak also about memory. Schomburg offers us images inside of a house and then immediately takes them away.

“I sit in a chair / There is no chair” (The Chandelier Age).

It reminded me of seeing, for the first time in a long time, a house you once lived in. Until you go inside, you are under the delusion that it will be exactly as it was. It’s as jarring as it is funny to imagine a person moving around a house and trying to go through with their routine, only to be repeatedly unable to do it.

“Scary, No Scary,” takes everything we know and dangles it over a black hole, and then it pushes us to where “you just keep falling / right there/ at it’s infinite lip” (The Black Hole). Hummingbirds and jaguars and boats all fall into the hole, but as the book continues they all come out the other side. The book’s scenarios put us in awe of ourselves, of our persistence for love and connections, and then, just as suddenly, we are embarrassed by ourselves, by our ability to just as easily devour and draw blood in the name of such desires.

Schomburg is a playful mastermind. He wants us to find our own sense of rebirth from nothingness, where “Everything I plant/I bury” (Look Through the Complex Eye and See 1000 of Everything). You will leave this book completely tenderized, in both the hand-touching and the slab-of-meat-pulverized sense of the word.

Extra Credit:


2 Responses to Poetry Review: Scary, No Scary

  1. […] as he presses on in search of someone or something he can’t name in boats going nowhere.” (full review here) Rate this: Share:Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Published: May 7, 2012 Filed […]

  2. “Poetry Review: Scary, No Scary The
    Lesser of Two Equals” was in fact a superb posting, can’t wait to look at even more of your articles.
    Time to spend some time on-line haha. I appreciate it -Alvaro

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