cover image Beast Feast

Beast Feast

Cody-Rose Clevidence. Ahsahta (SPD, dist.), $18 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-1-934103-53-1

Reviewed by Stephen Burt. Clevidence’s big first collection is certainly a strange beast: tough-to-read text blocks of many shapes and sizes, Cummingsesque typographical games (“o0o0O000O))))”), lush blocks of descriptive prose, slices of language from the life sciences (“foraged glycogen”), political economy (“each flower represents a different global market”), phenomenology, potential sex talk, quotations from philosopher Giorgio Agamben, and propulsive pentameter monostichs (“the hoofed red-meat stands steaming in the field”) all come together. The total impression is one of a poet who takes nothing for granted, who wants to incorporate every kind of language, every instinct, and every power that positions us—or shoves us out of position—in an all-too-complicated modern world.

Clevidence, an Iowa Writers Workshop graduate who now lives in a cabin in Arkansas, wants to show both how thickly the discourse around us (about bodies, about money and gender, about space and time) holds us in its deadening, deafening grip, and how strongly and strangely and beautifully the body that Clevidence imagines can try to get free. “[W]hat limp or bare-backed bare-boned regalia is a throwback to a whip, crown, death-church,” the poet asks, “is the flash flood a call to arms against an ocean?” Clevidence (who goes by the pronoun “they”) draws on recent sexually explicit eco-poetry as well as on Shakespeare and on the DC Comics character Swamp Thing, who may be the key to the whole volume.

Clevidence’s strangest pages have no obvious precedent: they are columns of almost unreadable manifesto, arranged like characters on ancient scrolls, without word breaks, so that we have to slow waaaay down, and to disregard non-alphanumeric detritus, in order to even begin to read them. Only this kind of weird self-conscious process, Clevidence suggests, can help us question our deepest bourgeois assumptions and short-circuit our inner censoriousness. One of the columnar poems depicts “thef/ ORESTickT/ Hick::WOLF/ Fhunt{edF/ OX{}” among “swalL/OW.asPs.” We have to work to visualize such things, and that’s part of the point. Some pages look like screen captures, or like server errors—the language of computer programming (“VERB/ ATIM PURL... & BUILT”) zaps and muscles its way amid the language of poems. “Queerne/ssnecessi/ tatesarad/ icalizedl/ anguage,” Clevidence also declares, and for most of their volume, that radical language arrives. Readers who like a challenge should be ready to dig in. (Sept.)