K.I. Press. Exquisite Monsters. (Turnstone Press 2015).
The monsters certainly abound in K.I.Press’s latest, & many of them speak. The eyes, the ‘I’s, open themselves to weird experiences everywhere. A kind of sly horror mixed with surrealist vision takes control, as the first poem, ‘Code,’ asserts: ‘Particular we come into this world, and particular / we leave. Bits and bytes and everything nice.’ Or not so. Listen to the speaker in ‘The Land of Dread,’ dealing with ‘All the judgments. I told me so.’ And then apologizing: ‘I’m sorry I’m not well. / I know you can never forgive me.’
Press ranges widely in Exquisite Monsters, with many of the poems challenging the conventional lyric confession; I mean, who can trust that speaker, like so many of them perversely constructed? But the one in the section titled ‘Research Notes Toward Creation,’ exploring the ongoing action of pregnancy & birth, seems closer to the writer who dedicates her book ‘for Sylvie, for later.’ The dark comedy of many of the other poems takes a lighter tone here, but the snap remains: ‘I, like last year’s taxes, am overdue.’ This taken from the ‘Birthday Calendar,’ a series of odd saints’ days investigated as signs of wonders sort of refusing to manifest. Until ‘The Feast of the Series Finale of Battlestar Galactica’: ‘I must have willed her the extra weeks in the womb / so I wouldn’t miss the end. / My calculations off, she slid out and squinted while / the last episode aired all over / North America. Except in our delivery room.’ At any rate, with all their mad comedy, the poems in this middle section at least suggest the imaginative wanderings have some connection to the author’s life: ‘Perhaps it is a blessing / when the baby turns into an episode of Lost. / Simultaneously existing in more timelines / than a drowsy mother can follow.’
But this central section stands apart; the other 4 sections, not just the almost titular final sequence, ‘Exquisite Monster,’ owing much, as Press says, ‘to the exhibition Fairy Tales, Monsters and the Genetic Imagination,’ which showed at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 2012 (see that first poem, ‘Code,’ for example). Life itself is monstrous, as various sequences argue: ‘Phantom Siblings,’ with its ‘barely mother of the barely worth living’ and ‘Blood, babies, buses’; ‘Excavation Site,’ where trees are given only to die, ‘Organs harden, / crack and fissure,’ and there are ‘things in which / dolls and little girls got lost, injured, or encased / in cement and glue’; & ‘Objects of Affection,’ with its tales of ‘Mrs. Berlin Wall,’ ‘Mr. Statue of Liberty,’ & other such figures, even Nancy Drew, who ‘got married. / To someone we’ve never met’ & in the end, ‘She ignores the sounds of monsters moving. / Muted howls from the bottom of the sea.’
Those being the last 2 lines before ‘Exquisite Monster (in interchangeable parts).’ Each of those parts, wonderfully warped ekphrastic responses to that exhibition, are printed on one side of the page in serrated sections that can be cut so as to read them in any order you want. They certainly evoke the monstrous as seen, & then interpreted: ‘It is all mouth, / forty teeth as sharpened pencils, / points dark and bloody, ready / to correct you.’ The wit at work throughout Exquisite Monsters grabs & will not let go. This large & entertaining phantasmagoria revels in its dark ironies & slyly appropriated rhetorics, offering a horror-show of contemporary pop & techno culture with just the right soupçon of black & bleak wit.