The Octopus Game

Nicky Beer. Carnegie Mellon Univ, $15.95 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-0-88748-593-0
This clever and arresting second effort from Beer (The Diminishing House) sees the whole modern world—its sad childhoods, erotic delights, and ecological dilemmas—in terms of octopuses and their tentacled kin. Her energy for collecting trivia can equal the verve of her syntax: a group of eight danseurs photographed a century ago are a “pubescent octet in sepia wash, symmetrically poised/ in borrowed frocks”; in the eponymous game, “[t]wo people sit side by side/ And become each other’s arms.” Beer’s insistence on using octopuses (and squid and cuttlefish) as metaphors does not keep her from exploring—and, at times, flaunting—marine zoology, such as when she writes, “[T]he thousands of real/ octopus corpses washed/ upon” a Portuguese beach years ago. Nor does her attention to the links between human and nonhuman life, to the way that we are all just collections of cells, prevent her from delighting in old forms, especially sonnets and pantoums. Detractors may find her mannered, but she’s memorable—and her well-researched figures have emotions to spare. Beer notes how an octopus “born... without understanding/ of fire” can crawl right over “burning/ piles of soda ash,” just as a lover returns to the beloved, even if “what remains of me will be a charred nebula outstretched in the flux-seeded coals.” (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 01/19/2015
Release date: 02/01/2015
Genre: Fiction
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