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2013, Starburker Publications, saddle-stitched, 12 pp. Free for C5 SASE from 58 Pennington, Orton Goldhay, Peterborough, PE2 5RB, United Kingdom, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
This is the latest in Cox's series of thin white pamphlets of poetry based on the writings of HP Lovecraft. As the title suggests, Codex Ponape focuses on the greatest malevolent deity of them all, or at least the one with the most cachet: he who waits dreaming in the drowned and otherwise deserted city of R'lyeh, under the Pacific Ocean near the island of Ponape. There are 11 poems, and as usual, there is some sort of “description” at the bottom of most of the pages. However, in contrast to previous publications in this series, these bottom of the page descriptions are not part of the game. Instead, with one exception, these are actual explanations of how the poems came to be written.
This is not one of my favorites of these small Lovecraftian offerings. The first poem, entitled “Just read what it says on the card,” is priceless. If your ophthalmologist was an adherent of the cult of Cthulhu, this would probably be on his wall. Several of the poems in this collection, such as “Trout Mask Replicas,” seem like great ideas that are not adequately realized. I should also mention that a couple of the poems in Codex Ponape are actually songs. The last poem is a piece of flash fiction. If you are familiar with the Cardinal's work, it is enough to know that these are typical of it. If you are not familiar with his work, this review is not going to convince you to get it.
Why am I reviewing a small-press publication about which I have so many reservations? First, it is part of a series and there may be some people who want to read every one in the series. Second, I really like two of the 11 poems a lot. Third, there may be other people who, for various reasons (Cthulhu fans, Lovecraftian completists, etc.), want this booklet even though I am lukewarm about it. Finally, this review will have a small environmental footprint because only an excerpt will be printed on paper and the rest will become phosphors. In conclusion, this little book is not without merit and I hope I have told you enough to let you know whether you will like it.
—David C. Kopaska-Merkel
2013, Dark Regions Press. 110 pages, perfect-bound. $9.95. darkregions.com
Having just finished reading this collection, my mind ever spins with a gathering of images. I am drawn into a continuum of lit and unlit earthly and alien landscapes from which emerge clones, sad gorgons, strange circuses, painted stars, zombies, abandoned ruined cities, and alien women fishing spacemen out of a sparkling lake.
David C. Kopaska-Merkel is no stranger to weird and beautiful poetry. He’s been writing it and publishing it since, I guess, the ’70s. As a fellow poet I know: it’s a compulsion. You can’t help yourself. You’re out there dreaming … maybe not all the time but, well, a lot of the time. It doesn’t mean this world isn’t a grand and wonderful adventure unto itself, it’s just that we can’t help ourselves. Our minds move on these far-flung tawny shores of stars quite naturally as if the brain has an extra limb that is unstoppable in its reaching, its searching. There is no alternative but to be always creating, always calling into being that which your heart desires.
What’s my point? Simply, these poems are written from love and essentially are, pure love of science fiction, of dark fantasy, of altered reality, of time’s lost dreams. Who could turn away from a writer who uses words like “chatoyant” or “golden menhirs?”
Here are two wonderful excerpts from two poems that stood out to me:
Luna falls on her lover by the sea,
In the hills where the trees fail,
At the crossroads open to the sky.
Down she leans to brush his lips with hers,
To lave his limbs, anoint her cheeks
With his essence.
(from “Dragon Wind”)
wind, spiraling through barren streets
like the breath of dragons,
scouring clean what was never soiled,
making new what was never old,
this place is not a place,
those who built it never lived here.
I highly recommend this book. Readers will not be disappointed. When you receive it, you will be receiving pages of gifts, an envelope (or e-envelope) containing rocketeers, tsunami revenants, enchanted mushrooms, surreal underwater cities, hungry spaceships, ghost-lovers. This is the gift that keeps on giving. To quote one poem: “The past is where you are.” This book will keep you there, in a pleasure of words, and well on into the future.
Also contains wonderfully romantic artwork by Marge Simon.
2013, Eye Scry Publications, 170 p. $2.99 for Kindle from Amazon.com; $2.99 .pdf from fanzinesplus.com/html/unearthly.htm
Unearthly is an e-book, a reprint of seven out-of-print chapbooks published between 1994 and 2005. Only one poem in this collection is truly new, but unless you have been a dedicated collector of Wendy Rathbone's poetry, you can't have read all of these:
Moon Canoes (1994, Dark Regions Press)
(Im)mortal (1996, Shadowfire Press)
Scrying The River Styx (1999, Anamnesis Press)
Autumn Phantoms (2000, Flesh and Blood Press)
Dreams of Decadence Presents (2002, DNA Publications)
Dancing in the Haunted Woodlands (2003, Yellow Bat Review)
Vampyria (2005, Eye Scry Publications)
Reading these poems is a sensory experience. They evoke a myriad colors, scents, even pure emotions. Rathbone's work is so rich you have to read a poem again and again to understand what it's about. When you do, you often find the poems are images, or series of images, pictures in words of eerie settings and situations. If these poems were abstract paintings I would hang them in my house. Rathbone's poetry carries the reader through dreamworlds that are intimate, beautiful, ghostly, and sharp-edged. Here there be monsters, though some are the kind to whom one is wont to surrender (whether this is wise is debatable).
From "Vampire Poet"
Fling me the snowflakes
from your eyes
I’ll save them in some
You’ll never know this is happening
how I watch your naked chest move
Some of Rathbone's monsters are more like old friends, and draw explicitly on tales we've long known.. From "Child’s Letter Found In An Old Toy Box (Written in silver crayon)"
I avoid Neverland’s mirrors, now,
too ancient to look upon, really,
just a ghastly old, old boy.
But don’t be sad, Wendy.
There are themes, common threads running through many of these poems. Seasons and months, especially autumn and winter. Immortality, vampires, creation and destruction. Especially vampires!
I never think of Rathbone as a science fiction writer. Her work is moody; it broods over impossible landscapes like the ghosts of Lovecraft's Elder Things, hovering over their cyclopean Antarctic city. Nevertheless, sfnal themes and settings can be found in her work.
From "Dreaming a Star-Farer to Life"
I watch for his breath
upon the frozen tongue of sky
that arcs my tiny seam of sight.
Within the tundra of galactic
continents, among the sparks
of constellations flickering
These poems take place in unreal worlds: outer space, undefined regions beyond reality, dreams. Sometimes one awakens from the dream. Some of these poems employ tropes from Celtic tales of the fae.
From "The Vampyre Cathedral"
One boy dreamed
of a goblin
who owns time.
He woke aged
There is simply no way to encapsulate Rathbone's oeuvre. And at less than $3 for the whole delightful collection, it's a crime to leave it on the table. So to speak.
—David C. Kopaska-Merkel