Zachary Schomburg - Like the younger sibling of Brautigan’s In Watermelon Sugar, but boxier and more etched on the page. And, Schomburg’s book is still utterly its own thing, strange and wondrous

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Zachary Schomburg, Mammother, Featherproof Books, 2017.
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The people of Pie Time are suffering from God’s Finger, a mysterious plague that leaves its victims dead with a big hole through their chests. In each hole is a random consumer product. Mano Medium, a sensitive, young cigarette-factory worker in love, does his part by quitting the factory to work double-time as Pie Time’s replacement barber and butcher, and by holding the things found in the holes of the newly dead. However, the more people die, the bigger Mano becomes. XO, the power-hungry corporation bent on overtaking Pie Time, and Father Mothers, the bumbling priest, have their own ideas about how to capitalize on God’s Finger. By contrast, and powered by honoring his own lost loves, Mano fights to resist this exploitation by teaching death to those who can’t afford to survive it. As Pie Time and Mano both grow irrevocably, Mano must make a decision about how he can best fit into his own life. With a large cast of unusual characters, each struggling with their own complex and tangled relationships to death, money, and love, Mammother is a fabulist's tale of how we hold on and how we let go in a rapidly growing world.

Like the younger sibling of Richard Brautigan’s In Watermelon Sugar, but boxier and more etched on the page. And, Schomburg’s book is still utterly its own thing, strange and wondrous. — Aimee Bender

“Mammother is as nearly a complete world as can be with its micro-climate, its ecology, geography. A life-enhancing work with great heart and imagination, the language is a poet’s.” Wong May

Zachary Schomburg will insist, if you ask, that his novel is "very traditional."
But it's a strange tradition, if so. Mammother (Featherproof Books, 345 pages, $17.95) is at once a surrealist comedy about death and a deeply human tragedy about love, set in a town called Pie Time whose factory makes nothing but beer and cigarettes.
Its people are beset by a terrible plague: Without warning, God's Finger descends from the sky to leave murderous holes in Pie Timers' chests. In each corpse, a little memento is left behind—a telephone, say, or a radio.
"Your hearts are too small," says the radio left behind in the "death hole" of the town's former preacher, whose name is Father Mothers.
Schomburg, a Nebraska-raised Portlander prone to rumpled sweaters, has many stories for how the novel came to exist. The simplest is that he got a residency in France in 2015 that allowed him to do nothing but write. Schomburg has published four books of poetry in the past decade, but novels were foreign to him—not only in format but also because of their brute length.
"Maybe poetry is the thing I've studied, but it's also something I could do in a single sitting," Schomburg tells WW. "You can do it in an evening, put it out, put it away. A novel is a lot of work."
The seed for Mammother was planted in Portland five years ago, however, while waiting for a Red Fang show to start.
"I was writing a poem with a friend," says Schomburg. "The very first word was 'mammother.' I put the m down, she put the a down. We got 'mammoth.' And then she wrote e, which was frustrating because Mammoth would have been a great title."
So he finished the word by writing "mammother." Schomburg's obsession with this word formed the eventual structure of the novel—and also the story of its main character, Mano Medium.
"After that moment, I kept thinking about that word—it started an entire plot, mostly to think about it as a noun: What does a mammother do? He hunts mammoths. But also it means to get larger and larger."
Mano Medium is the hero of the book, if there is one. After taking over the roles of both barber and butcher, he also becomes a repository for the Pie Time dead, holding each of the items found in their death holes. He also holds "Death Lessons" for the town's children, letting them play with animals he eventually butchers in front of them.
Schomburg wrote the novel's first paragraph at Mother Foucault's Bookshop on Southeast Morrison Street, where he sat at a typewriter and tapped out what would become the book's first sentence: "If you felt ready to die, wanted death bad enough and had little enough to live for, The Reckoner would grant your wish and fall on you."
For a time, the first paragraph was all he had. An attempt at a graphic novel with artist Gregor Holtz also ran aground. The only surviving image is of a monster luridly eating a woman from the middle of her legs up.
Mammother can read as if an alien had learned the concept of a novel from outer space, and set about writing one. To learn the novel's form, Schomburg solicited advice from local novelist Patrick deWitt—whose Undermajordomo Minor, another fable without a moral, is a sort of spiritual cousin to Mammother—and steeped himself in the magical narratives of Toni Morrison and Gabriel García Marquez, and the cruelties of Shirley Jackson.
As in a García Marquez village, the cast of characters surrounding Mano is limitlessly vast. But if the book is best represented by any one of its parts, it is perhaps the epic journey of Enid Pine, who travels so slowly in her monthslong journey down a garden path to Mano's house that she's treated as furniture.
Schomburg says he wanted to create a form of storytelling that's the opposite of A Game of Thrones, in which long journeys are always skipped over. In what might be a metaphor for creation itself, Pine finally gives painful birth to the tusks of a mammoth that did not yet exist—a mammoth she then triumphantly rides. As Mano's mother once said of the mammoth hunter she loved, "Only a great hunter can find something that doesn't exist."
The journey is long and strange, and it follows a path that can at times be difficult to see. But in the end, there are wonders. Mammothing is, perhaps, the wholehearted work of the book. "When Enid finally gets there and these tusks are pulled out of her vagina," Schomburg says, "it's pretty satisfying." - 

Portland poet and publisher Zachary Schomburg has assigned himself a potentially punishing task. On Saturday, August 19, he’ll read the entire text of his 350-page debut novel Mammother onstage, from sunrise to sunset. At various points throughout the marathon reading, Schomburg will be accompanied by about half a dozen ambient musicians.
Mammother tells the story of Mano Medium, a teenager growing up in a small town called Pie Time, a community named after the brand of beer and cigarettes made in a local factory. Pie Time is small enough that the one person who has a butcher shop is known as the Butcher, and whoever delivers mail is the Postman.
That insular small town is visited by a supernatural plague known as God’s Finger, and, as the novel progresses, elements of magical realism begin to challenge the town’s comfortable structure. Mammother’s characters veer toward flatness and archetype (or at least, they are supposed to seem that way), and much of the book deals with how they either cleave to or pull away from their prescribed roles—and how stable or fragile their personae really are. This is also a book that ups its what-the-fuck-ness so gradually that by the end you’ve hardly noticed that Mammother has turned into a fantasy novel about goddamn literal mastodons.
Schomburg’s known mostly as a poet, and Mammother bears a bit of that pedigree. The short chapters follow a consistent rise-and-fall structure, often ending reliably on a moment of catharsis, insight, or irony. They’re little bits of hypnotic fiction in and of themselves. Schomburg’s penchant for sticking the landing with his chapters is what will keep listeners engaged. It’s also what kept me reading. I read most of the novel in a single sitting, because Schomburg kept reeling me back in with good stingers. It’s also the type of book that you can put down basically whenever, because at any given moment, you’ve just gotten to a good stopping point.
It’s unlikely that anyone but the most dedicated readers will be up for hearing Schomburg read all of the novel from sunrise to sunset. And while you should absolutely be a completist and arrive at Schomburg’s reading at 6 am, if you want to go listen to Schomburg read for an hour or so, you’ll probably still get something out of it. If you can only make part of it, go later in the day. That’s when shit gets weird. - Joe Streckert

A young man tries to find his purpose in life—despite living in a bizarre surrealist landscape.
Poet Schomburg (The Book of Joshua, 2014, etc.) brings his unique voice to a first novel that may delight literary experimentalists but confound everyone else. This fabulist fable is set in the town of Pie Time, a village that seems to contain a factory that makes only cigarettes and beer, a church, an inn, a bar, and a few shops. The book’s protagonist is Mano Medium, a factory worker who is suddenly thrust into the dual roles of barber and butcher. This Byzantine composition is also populated by more than 50 characters, cataloged in a list at the front of the book. They include a few distinct personalities like Sisi Medium, Mano’s mother; his friend Pepe Let; and Enid Pine, a girl Mano fancies, but most characters are simply avatars for their professions—The Businessman, The Postman, etc. The narrative’s driving conflict is a plague called “God’s Finger,” which not only kills, but also leaves a hole in its victim’s body with a random consumer product stuck in it. Schomburg fills his fable with plenty of grotesque imagery, including a tide of bodies floating down the river to a nearby community, where they’ve been assembled into a horrifying pyramid. Along the way, Mano becomes a sort of curator of the death objects and teaches his neighbors to be accepting of death itself. But the character of the town changes dramatically again with the arrival of XO, a mysterious corporation that starts systematically replacing the local institutions with its own brands. By the time Enid rides triumphantly out of town on her mammoth, traditional readers wouldn’t be mistaken in thinking, “What the hell did I just read?”
A fancifully written experiment that can’t decide whether it wants to be an absurdist meditation on the human condition or a satire of consumer culture. - Kirkus Reviews

More poets should write novels. That’s what I’m thinking after reading Zachary Schomburg’s Mammother. Or maybe it’s not that. Maybe it’s that the definition of a poet has more to do with a way of seeing than whatever form the writing that follows such seeing takes. I’ve been thinking of this lately, perhaps because it is one of the great pastimes of the poet to discuss the worth of the poet. But I think the aim of the poet is tied to the aim of the artist: to remember, to tell, and in such telling, to reinvent. As Hilton Als writes: “Artists remember the world as it is, first, because you have to know what it is you’re reinventing.” It’s clear, then, that Schomburg remembers well. And out of such remembrance, he has crafted out of his novel a space of fabulist, sentiment-rich time. Like Marquez’s best work, Mammother takes its reader down the soil-rich lineage of communal mythology. Like Shane Jones’ beautiful and tender Lightboxes, Mammother narrows its focus to one place, one town, and the ways in which small gatherings of people reacting to change reflect how all of us together react to the problems of time. But to compare such a novel to other lessons in fabulism is to deny that odd things happen in all places. At some point in your life, something will fall in front of your feet that you did not expect. There’s a challenge that Mammother offers the reader: to believe, simply, in what you are about to read, and then to risk reading it.
I’m writing this while on a bus to Boston. Through the process of reading Mammother, I’ve attended one funeral – for my friend’s father – and am now on my way to visit my girlfriend’s aunt, who is in hospice care. I’ve never met her. When Meg received the news of her aunt’s potential passing, she left New York almost immediately. I offered to come up the next day for support and was taken aback when Meg said that she’d like me to meet her aunt, who, she said, always wanted to meet me. So here I am, somewhere in Connecticut, where the sky forever seems like winter, racing the timespan of a life to meet that same life at its end. I don’t know how we do this, or why. These are difficult questions. Outside my window, birds alight into the dark green mass of trees before ascending, sometimes all at once, a great dark swirl, sometimes just one, lonely or free or both.
Mammother tells the story of a town, Pie Time, and a person, Mano Medium. The town is struck by a plague of sorts. People die, leaving behind a hole in their chest and a thing – an object, a token – placed within the hole. There is no pattern. The town has people named after their professions: The Barber, The Butcher, The Shoveler, and more. More people die. They each leave a thing. Mano grows up wearing dresses, working at a cigarette factory. He later gets a haircut and falls in love with a boy. More people die. Mano becomes a barber. Mano begins to gather all the things that the dead leave behind. He gives lessons about death to others. A widow, Inez, falls in love with him. As does a girl, Enid. Mano loves the boy more. There is a black square in his barbershop that he can move into, a new world or the same. There is a tree in a forest that people used to go to in order to be killed, to die. There is a river, The Cure, upon which the bodies are floated down when they are dead. Mano becomes bigger and bigger as he gathers the things that are left behind or given to him. There is so much and so much death. The heart of the novel thumps like a great red orb pulsing upward from the other side of the horizon as you read.
On buses, I’m always struck by the simple fact of this box filled with people hurtling toward a fixed point while remaining still inside. Here, I am one person among many going to the same destination for, I assume, different reasons. And for a short time, we can get up within this vessel and walk around, go to the bathroom, speak or not. I never feel like I make the most of the fewer-and-far-between moments of stillness this life affords me. Schomburg has a poem in an old issue of DIAGRAM where he writes, “I told you . . . I was in fact an island and that I couldn’t join anyone anywhere.” Tell me this shouldn’t be printed underneath each window of each Greyhound hurtling down the highway.
What is it about things, Schomburg seems to ask in Mammother. What is it about what we gather for ourselves? What is it about what we leave behind? What is it about what we refuse to let go? What is it about letting go? Does it scare us? Does it make us fear our life? Our death? Always there is that hum of Rilke from his “Archaic Torso of Apollo,” that warning, that confession and declaration: “You must change your life.”
The bus rolls forward along 84, and we pass, in some order, a large abandoned cinema, a Burlington Coat Factory, a Sam’s Club, and an unmarked low-rise building sprawling out among the vastness of unfilled parking spaces. There is so much here, used and unused, each a kind of life, each its own kind of death. I’m afraid I don’t know how to say any more than that. In my life, I have gathered up so much. I sleep, surrounded by books and miscellany, in a room surrounded by other rooms. I save old letters. I have two big garbage bags of clothes I have yet to give away, for no reason other than the notion that there is always another day. Some nights I want to crawl through the black square that is my window and find myself surrounded by trees I cannot name, swimming in water that will never drown me, touching the hair atop another’s arm.
At one point, Schomburg writes of Mano, “He knew his life would change if he opened the door, and he didn’t want his life to change.” At one point, Mano describes love as “a deep ache . . . Like you miss them even when you’re with them.” How can I fault a novel that searches deep enough to say such things? Why, too, do I think so much of fault? There is the tired hum in the back of my head about a line being earned or believable, but what is more deeply earned than feeling, than ache? I believe less these days in the possibility of good in art, or in any of our various abilities to sort out the goodness like gifts. I choose, more so, to believe in delight and violence and death and pulse, to believe in what skews what I know. I don’t know if I crave a distraction so much as I crave a new way of seeing, for truth, I have found, is so hard to acquire in this moment, that when I do find it, I moan audibly. I let out a sigh. I finally breathe. I turned each page of Mammother not because I felt some deep need to know what would happen, but because I felt the book a mirror, and saw the whole world looking back. In an essay Schomburg wrote for the online journal The Volta, he asserted, “Gazing will hold our attention for a very long time.” Mammother is a lesson in such gazing. We gaze into the hole that dying leaves. We gaze into the things the dying leave behind. We gaze into people and their lives and what they stuff deep inside them and what they reveal and the actions such stuffing and revealing translate to. I don’t know what we do after the gazing. I hope we are a little better for it, whatever better means.
I don’t know what will happen when I get to Boston. I don’t know how to greet someone I’ve never met who is just about to leave this earth, what kind of pressure to apply to the hand, to offer a kiss to the forehead or the cheek. At the burial for my friend’s father, we held flowers and waited for the priest to give us permission to place them on the coffin. The plot was there. The hole was in the ground. I could, through a small space between the wood and the earth, see all the way down. It was terrifying. I had been reading Mammother on the Long Island-bound train earlier that morning and thought of Mano and his lessons about death. I thought that, if everyone in the crowd had been able to sit or stand or lie down in the earth before the burial, maybe it would make the whole thing easier. Maybe we would find it comfortable. The softness of dirt, the bits of rock lodging into the sore spots of our muscles. Maybe it would give us something to think of when we left, the same way we think of a childhood bed, or an ex-lover’s, and how we can hear the springs squeaking beneath our weight. I don’t know. It was when we left the flowers on the coffin that we cried the most. Maybe because we gave away some last thing. Maybe because we had to leave. Maybe because we felt that somewhere, still, in that coffin, was a breath of life that we were about to leave alone. Maybe because we felt, too, a little more alone. I don’t know.
To me, the three most important words in this language are I don’t know, and they seem to be the operative words in Schomburg’s novel. I think, if I were a more cynical critic, I would find certain things at fault in the novel’s approach. There are moments in the plot that feel unnecessary or at times contrived, details that favor the poetic weight of the novel rather than forwarding some sort of narrative arc. There are also moments where you question the physics of Pie Time, and the metaphysics, too. You do this once or twice. You wonder how a body can move through a black square and into another world. And then you accept. Accept wonder. Accept joy. Sentiment. Invention. Mammother is a novel that entices you to love the writer as much as, if not more so than, the work. You also hate the writer, too. It is experiential. Both celebration and elegy. And, above all else, it is curious. About love, gender, masculinity, relationships, corporations, time, death, and life. At a certain point in Mammother, Pie Time begins to resemble a typical American city. At a certain point, Mano begins to resemble you, and you resemble Mano. You resume your foray back into the world outside of the book, expecting difference, a thing falling from the sky, and find none. In the mirror, you look at you. You want to apologize, for what, or how, or why, to whom.
Early in Mammother, Schomburg writes, of Mano, that “empty rooms…made the world feel like it was on its first page.” All of Mammother feels like it is on its first page. Each page, caught up in the momentum of the fragment, distilled by a highly generous and sympathetic way of seeing, feels like the whole world itself is capable of being there, wide and open and unknown and unrelenting. It is the poet’s gift – how to make a line stand on its own while also being entirely dependent on the next line. That is the crux, isn’t it? We are each here and we are all here. Schomburg knows this. It is why love is both hope and grief, why trees are both limb and forest, why life is so long and far too short. - Devin Kelly

review by Judson Hamilton

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Zachary Schomburg, The Book of Joshua, Black Ocean, 2014.                                       

Zachary Schomburg has delivered his latest work from a dark place, where little machines repeat in a hollow voice, "this is only further proof of your badness." presented in a single narrative, THE BOOK OF JOSHUA is a sorry heart begged out of dreams, death & a horse's eye. It is an epic journey not only affirming that "there is a difference between sadness and suffering," but that Schomburg is one of the most unusual poets writing today, pushing his work beyond our familiarity. These poems have a thirst for blood, but they don't yet know exactly what to do with their hands. THE BOOK OF JOSHUA calls out in hunger and loneliness, "I didn't feel like living in anything not shaped like me anymore."

With wit, humor, tenderness, and his characteristic, logic-bending surrealism, Schomburg (Fjords, vol. I) probes into the subjects of futurity, personal history, and mythmaking. Short, dated prose poems (titled "1977" through "2044") comprise the book's first two sections, "Earth" and "Mars," and propel a narrative of discovery and self-making just beyond the borders of a recognizable world. In this dreamscape, the missing presence of "Joshua" haunts every turn: a figure in "a white boat floating on blood"; a name carved on the side of a spaceship; a name uttered by friends and family. This interlocutor, a vessel and keeper of dreams, acts as the big "Other" driving our protagonist's hopes and doubts. "I didn't feel like living in a thing not shaped like me anymore," Schomburg writes. "I woke up dangling from an umbilical cord... And there you were, Joshua, on the blood in a white boat, rocking." In the final section, "Blood," Schomburg reinserts the images developed earlier in lineated, page-wandering poems, once again addressing Joshua. But here, the narrative explodes: "white boat rocking// swans/ rocking// a cradle on a// dirty/ loop... // where were you I was calling." And the language only grows increasingly volatile from there: "do we even know enough to die// who are you what/ year is new." - Publishers nWeekly

In Stephen Crane’s poem “In the Desert” an inexplicably naked, bestial creature squats in the desert eating its own heart “‘[b]ecause it is bitter, / [a]nd because it is [his] heart.’” The essence of Zachary Schomburg’s latest book, The Book of Joshua, calls to mind Crane’s poem with its surprising, absurd, captivating logic and dreamscape. In an interview with Peter Stitt in The Paris Review, John Ashbery said, “I would like to please the reader, and I think that surprise has to be an element of this.” In The Book of Joshua, Schomburg, who has written three previous full-length books, delivers on surprise, and thus on pleasure. He has said of his own work, “Mostly I want my poems to generate their own energy through confusion. I want my poems to confuse the reader. Not a confusion in a cognitive or narrative sense, but in an emotional sense.”
Indeed, the narrative and rules here are associative, intuitive, and magical as opposed to logical, linear, and realistic, a bit like a dark Kafka parable. And that may be part of the game. Schomburg was born in 1977, which might seem irrelevant, except that the speaker of The Book of Joshua was born in 1977, as the first poem is titled “1977” and each poem is a year thereafter in the speaker’s life until 2044 when the speaker would be 67 years old. This composes the first two sections—“Earth” and “Mars.” The last section—“Blood”—sheds the years concept and the prose poem form, though it continues to operate with the same remixed diction and images. “Blood” transforms from narrative to loose, spacious verse that makes deliberate use of the page as blank white space to convey distance. The form suffuses the page, like blood, as it remixes earlier language.
So, who is Joshua? The whole book is an apostrophe addressed to a missing character named Joshua who seems at turns to be the speaker, the speaker’s Galatea-like creation, the speaker’s child, or the speaker’s alter ego. People persistently refer to the speaker as Joshua, though the narrator spends the book insisting he’s not. In the end, it seems, Joshua is merely AND importantly the self. As the speaker says in ‘1982,’ “[t]o see you for the first time was to see myself for the first time.”
‘1989’ is titled but there is no poem. The blank comes right after Joshua dies in 1988 when the speaker would be 12. The book, thereafter, becomes a lament filled with confused emotions and violent impulses played out in a constant push from image into image into absurd conclusion. Strung with guilt and feelings of wickedness, the whole thing feels faintly biblical, and faintly mythological. Though everyone in this Dali-meets-Hitchcock scene seems hopelessly disconnected, the book is full of images of attempted connection: telephone cords, umbilical cords, and heart veins in such poems as ‘1984’:
I wanted you to be real, so I made you into a machine that pumped my blood for me. You were a regular metal boy. You had a tape recorder where a regular metal head should be. Every night I hooked up my heart-veins to your mechanical heart. My heart-veins hung between us like telephone wires. I am a boy, I said. I am a boy, you said. Goodnight, Joshua, I said. Goodnight, Joshua, you said.
It’s impressive that this single narrative remains smooth in spite of its many erratic leaps. The book is much like Schomburg’s poem-films and poem-song projects (“Blood” is recorded with Kyle Morton as an audio project) which extend the borders of poetry, just like the prose poem once did. Schomburg said in an interview with Brian Brodeur, “Sometimes I find myself in this place where my brain and my heart are talking to each other, and I have nothing to do with it. I’m dead. And those two parts of me have forgotten about me. This is when I’m at my happiest, when I’m dead in this exact way.” That statement feels like the mission statement of the strange land of The Book of Joshua, which ultimately spins its own myths in a book that is built to feel symbolic, but isn’t really a straightforward metaphor for anything because, within the context of this world, these statements are literal. It’s not allegory but finely figured dream.
The cast of characters includes a character named Woman who seems to be a detached mother figure physically cut off from the speaker, though observing via some magical telephone, and recording the text known as the “Book of Joshua” by recording everything the speaker says and does. Other characters include God, Joshua, and the speaker’s father. The speaker’s father is never named and only appears as “my father” in a series of ten poems in “Mars.” The father, in an inversion typical of this book, is birthed by the pregnant speaker who admits, “I was not ready to be a son.” According to the speaker, all birth is essentially abandonment, and his pregnancy and fathering of his own father mirror the speaker’s creation of and loss of Joshua. The inversion causes an awkward and intense estrangement as the father, who eventually abandons the speaker on Mars by stealing their spaceship, writes, “Dear Joshua, you are a finite distance from me, and I am a finite distance from you, and that distance is eternally and hopelessly in flux.” There’s a palpable distance between all of these characters—between Joshua and the speaker, God and the speaker, the Woman and the speaker—like stars staring at each other in the dark: “God bless me, I said, but God was unable to bless anyone from so far away.” And although the book is explicitly an apostrophe to Joshua, the you is so inviting and pointed it’s impossible not to feel, as the reader, it’s you:
we are the same exact invisible
silent broken tree the same wall
of birds the same horse licking
and shining the same hole in
the air we have the same face.

If this is neither metaphor nor allegory at work here, then what are Schomburg’s devices? Repetitions. He used indices in his previous collections to organize, emphasize, and create opportunity for repeated words, images and themes, but he seems to have stopped with this book, which makes sense given that it’s not really a collection so much as a single narrative. And he maintains the basic philosophy of carrying threads and images; he just doesn’t need the gimmicky scaffold anymore. His imagery begins in a dream within this larger dream, as the speaker in ‘1978’ confesses, “I had my first nightmare about dangling by an umbilical cord from a white sky above a white boat floating on blood. In it, you were asleep or worse in the boat, your name carved on the side. Joshua, it read.” And he circles back to the beginning image many times: white boat floating on blood. As in: “[i]t made a white boat-shaped cloud that floated on the red sky,” or: “[t]he river became a giant wall of soft bloody wooliness,” or perhaps most hauntingly:
the horse is dead
underneath the bed

it grows the blood
your white boat floats on.

Repetition makes this book, even though in a playful meta-moment, the speaker actually cautions, “When you do something over and over again, it is as if it isn’t being done at all.” It’s as if the book were rejecting its own methods as unsound. The book also rejects the sort of traditional simile-and-metaphor model of building poems. At one point, in ‘1990’ there’s almost an outright attack on metaphor: “At the mouth of the cave was an actual mouth, and at the mouth of the river was an actual mouth. The mouths had big salt rocks for teeth that would crumble together as they spoke.” The mouth of the cave has an actual mouth because whatever this menacing magical dreamscape is, it’s not metaphor. Instead, this book is built of negation and misdirection: I am not Joshua, I am not a biblical allusion, I am and am not the poet as speaker, I am not a symbol.
Like Schomburg’s genre-challenging poem-film and poem-song projects, the tone here is morbid, yet ironically luminous and welcoming, an opposition that creates tension and electricity, that propels a reader through the narrative with a pleasant discomfort. Everything feels repeated, repeatable, reincarnated, rebirthed. It feels slippery. It all hearkens back; in fact, The Book of Joshua hones, smooths, and perfects the same modes and tropes Schomburg’s been playing with since the beginning when no one was around. Back in Fjords, Schomburg titled one of his poems, “I Am the Dead Person Inside Me” and that trope seems to continue into The Book of Joshua. Early in the story, the lonely speaker asks, “Is anyone there?” and follows up with “I couldn’t think of anything else to say, but maybe that is always the best thing, to just ask if anyone is there.” Well, I’m here in the land of Joshua, attached by its heart veins, and you should be too. - Bill Neumire

Birds. Horses. A boat. Blood. The color white. A telephone.
These and other recurring motifs and objects make up The Book of Joshua by Zachary Schomburg. It is a strange journey indeed; beginning in the year 1977 and moving through 2044, the first two sections titled Earth and Mars are prose poems with only the year as title. Schomburg was born in 1977 and the third section of lineated poetry, Blood, begins on page 77. This most likely is not a coincidence as numbers are important to the book, however, only 67 years elapse in book time (though the final section does not contain years or individual poem titles).
I bring these points up to note the meditative quality of the poetry. Moving as if through the speaker’s life and to a possible future, Schomburg questions himself, his place in the world, and what is expected of him through the birth of himself/Joshua and his maturation. 1981 has the speaker slowly growing:
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While the speaker (who is possibly an avatar of Schomburg) and Joshua appear to be the same person, it is debatable. We can assess the similarities to Schomburg’s life (or time of existence), the fact that a character known as the Woman is writing The Book of Joshua in The Book of Joshua, or that The Book of Joshua in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible is attributed to Joshua but most likely has several contributing authors. Arguments could be made for all three and perhaps other interpretations. Suffice it to say, the book is an amalgamation of various sources and ideas.
According to The Poetry Foundation, Schomburg himself wants his poetry to “generate…energy through confusion…in an emotional sense.” This is true of the book; strange things happen that the reader must grapple with: Joshua comes into being from the speaker’s throat (spoken into existence), the speaker makes himself/Joshua into a machine (much like our bodies mechanically regulate our temperature, blood flow, etc.) so that he can talk to him(self), travels to Mars, swims an ocean of blood, births his own father, and plays the game Family (like how we interact with our families). Yes, this sounds confusing, but ultimately it isn’t narratively confusing. It allows us to emotionally consider our lives, what we’re doing with them, why we act as we act, what it means to say something, and that we keep looking for something even though we don’t know what it is.
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I think it’s important to look at an entire poem like this to understand the movement of the work: how things grow and shrink, questions are asked aloud and of the self, feelings are considered and communication and place are questioned for their validity. Dreams and nightmares clash in the speaker’s mind as reality and emotional identity are pursued seemingly through funhouse mirrors. Think about it: we go to carnivals and pay money to look at ourselves in variously-shaped mirrors. Certainly it is fun, but it also is a way we can be something else for a moment, or think we look a different way than we look. Are the mirrors in our homes (flat, regular mirrors) really telling us the truth when we look in them? Isn’t it strange how we can look smashing in one photograph and awful in the next? Schomburg takes us to this existential realm and allows us the opportunity to look at himself/Joshua/ourself. We can ask hard, emotional questions and decide how seriously we wish to consider answers.
I’ll admit the first time I read the book and arrived at the third section I was nonplussed. An immensely engaging story has been going on for 70-plus pages and now I’m confronted with line breaks and lots of white space. Much of these lines repeat what has happened in the first two sections and I was lost. This is part of the point though. In life, just as we begin to think we understand something, find a rhythm, get comfortable, something changes. We think back over what has changed and try to pinpoint what we thought and felt about the events preceding the change and we come up with fragments of thought, a distorted reality. Often we mull these fragments over and over in our minds before arriving at a somewhat abstract conclusion. This is what the last section of the book enacts as form:
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Many of these ideas are all ready in our mind because we just read them. They return here in a different form and elicit different meaning with line breaks, white space, and brevity that make us take more time to pause and consider them in relation to their previous meanings. Time changes things or things change over time. We alter our understandings and make new connections. Joshua is the speaker is Zachary is me and you. Is robotic. Is equine. Is creating from the mouth and bird bones. This is definitely a trip, moving through the solar system and our blood stream simultaneously, issuing from mouths and entering ears, creating a new planet that is this same planet, learning what to do with our bodies and minds and importantly asking our emotional selves how we feel and that we do. I think you should get in the spaceship. Think you should go read this book. - Matthew Schmidt

Zachary Schomburg’s The Book of Joshua is an unusual book. The eponymous character haunts the whole collection—and yet we’re never entirely sure who he is. Joshua is, at various points: a creature that emerges from the speaker’s throat, a robot, the speaker (who insists this is a mistake), a collection of dead birds, and a sailor on a sea of blood.
Despite Joshua’s disjointed identity, the book is unusually unified. It begins with a poem titled “1977,” and proceeds as a chronological narrative, a poem for every year. Near the start of the book, after the speaker becomes attached to Joshua (literally: their hearts are hooked together and robo-Joshua pumps the speaker’s blood), Joshua dies. The following poem/year is simply a blank page—we sense that the speaker is devastated beyond words by the loss. Much of the rest of the book narrates the speaker’s search for Joshua who, although dead, the speaker believes he can find.
The narrative doesn’t quite make sense—why look for Joshua if he’s dead?—and yet the force of the speaker’s longing is enough to make the reader accept this surreal plot. Though it may not make logical sense, the search for the dead Joshua makes complete emotional sense as a reflection of the psychology of grief. This blend of the surreal and the sympathetic plays out at the level of the individual poems as well. Take, for example, “1991”:
One night I dreamed that everything in the cave was different—the furniture, the wallpaper. When I walked to my bed, a little baby was sleeping in it. It wasn’t my bed. I thought the baby was you. Are you Joshua? I asked it. Are you the accidental baby of God? Are you a horse? Are you a tiny blue swan? Can I peel open your eyes? I asked it. I am sorry I am a strawberry patch, it said. And then growing from its middle came my own unforgiveableness, an impossibly beautiful strawberry patch to feed me forever.
Though the poem is full of surreal elements, they proceed in a strangely logical fashion: the speaker sees an unfamiliar baby in the cave where he lives, so naturally he asks what’s going on. The baby, naturally, answers: I am a strawberry patch. And sure enough, it’s true. This blend of sense and nonsense is Schomburg’s specialty, and he uses it to great effect throughout the book. “1991” reflects another more important key to the book’s success: even in its most surreal moments, it remains firmly grounded in pathos. We get the odd leap to a strawberry patch, yes—but we’re simultaneously reminded of the speaker’s sense of guilt following Joshua’s death, his touching sense of his “own unforgiveableness” that will “feed [him] forever.”
In other words, the book never resorts to strangeness merely for the sake of strangeness; rather, the surreal happenings are carefully selected images of the speaker’s loss. Indeed, strange as its surface may seem, the book always remains firmly anchored in emotional truth. Consider, for example, the frightening “1994”:
I stopped sleeping and started digging graves to jump into. I saw a horse eating her own horse babies. Horses sometimes get confused and eat their own horse babies, and then they groan for days once their mind finally clears. They groan, so ashamed, so afraid of themselves, and walk around in circles not eating anything. They are newly alone with bloody mouths. I had a new thirst for blood. I started to kill things I wouldn’t dare love.
Since the speaker in a sense gave birth to Joshua, we can’t help but read the horse as a metaphorical reflection of the speaker. So the horse’s shame and fear of itself are also the speaker’s, and we pity him. But immediately we are reminded of the speaker’s unforgiveableness: he has “a new thirst for blood” and starts to “kill things [he] would not dare love.” We sense that the speaker wants us to see him as the unforgiveable monster he believes himself to be—a complex portrait of guilt.
Yet the speaker does not seem beyond forgiveness. Rather, he’s a deeply sympathetic character, and he has the capacity for a strange sort of tenderness. He repeatedly tries to comfort a distraught character, and he sometimes emerges from his grief to act for others. Take, for instance, “2003”:
I decided I would be king of the island. I stumbled upon a field of headless corpses, and then I stumbled upon a field of heads. I collected all the heads in a large basket. This was my first act as king. Then I set them down miles apart from each other across the empty expanse. I put candles inside each skull so they’d look like stars to some other boy, some boy like me, maybe in space.
While we might expect the speaker to reunite the bodies with their heads, he has another plan. We learn he wants to make a sea of stars for “some other boy” to look at from space: he wants to make something beautiful for someone he can scarcely imagine. We sense also the speaker’s loneliness—the only place he can imagine someone “like me” is on a distant planet. Such loneliness is a constant and moving theme in the book. In “2000,” for instance, the speaker says:
I thought I finally found you, Joshua, floating in your white boat in the ocean. I dove into the ocean to save you, but when I surfaced, the white boat was gone. The ocean was a flat red floor. I floated past myself standing on shore. I stared at myself staring at myself. And I stared back at myself staring back at myself. There is more than one world in the world, and when a world finds another world it finally knows to feel alone.
Once again, though the scene is completely surreal, the emotional logic is fully present. We learn something true about what it is to be alone. But perhaps the most touching aspect of the speaker’s loneliness is that it is inescapable: in “2039,” the speaker explains:
I was tired, and I wanted to die. There was nowhere else to search and nothing else to do. I wanted someone to shoot me in the heart with a bow and arrow, but there was no one around. I laid on my back in the hole I had dug, and I shot an arrow far into the sky. When it came back down, it split my heart. It was finally time, I thought. But instead of dying, my heart just exploded into a flock of sheep and then began my burdensome years of being a shepherd. I knew I’d be horrible, these dirty sheep baaaing at my hole.
The speaker’s attempt at suicide only makes matters worse—within the bizarre logic of this universe, suicide leads to sheep which lead, naturally, to burdensome duties as a shepherd. The speaker tries to escape again in “2040”:
For my first duty as shepherd, I pushed all the sheep into the river. What a glorious massacre, I yelled. What a glorious day, the death of a broken heart! …
But in “2041,” we learn that there is no escape:
The sheep were not washed down the river to their deaths. Instead, all the water in the river was absorbed by the sheep. The river became a giant wall of soft bloody woolliness that trapped me forever…
So in “2042,” he tries a different approach:
I spent the year digging holes and burying wet red sheep in them: one billion graves, each filled with a dead sheep born from my split open heart…I looked for you, Joshua, in every grave I dug.
Though the shepherding becomes increasingly absurd, we’re reminded once again of the speaker’s loss as he checks each grave for Joshua. In that way, these sheep make sense, and their stubborn presence is as touching as it is funny.
Sympathetically surreal, funny and tragic, The Book of Joshua is an unusual book, and an unusually good one. Schomburg’s narrative—at once disjointed and unified—is fascinating as a project, and the individual poems stand strong on their own. Filled with wild flights of imagination, the book remains firmly grounded in the deep feeling of its speaker. The Book of Joshua is the surreal at its best—a gripping, challenging, and deeply rewarding experience. - J.G. McClure

Zachary Schomburg, Fjords Vol. 1, Black Ocean, 2012.

As one of the most exciting new voices in American poetry, Zachary Schomburg's previous books have enthralled thousands of readers with surreal landscapes populated by gorillas in people clothes, jaguars, plagues of hummingbirds, and even Abraham Lincoln. His poems have inspired art installations, shadow puppetry, rock albums, and string quartets. In Fjords, Schomburg inhabits the icy landscape, walking among all his little deaths as he explores the narrow inlets between the transcendent and the mundane. These are poems to be read by torchlight or with no light at all. As Schomburg explains, There is so much blood in the trees. It will be easy to fall in love like this. 

"Schomburg is possibly the man who will save poetry for all of those readers who are about to give up on the genre."—The Huffington Post

It’s said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results, something Schomburg understands. In his third collection, “the world is always as it is, and always as it seems.” Narrative without losing lyrical beauty, witty without losing gravity, the poems—though fiercely contemporary—still uphold the priorities to delight (“I am working in the ticket booth of the movie theater when you come in and take off my pants”) and to instruct (“Nothing is anyone’s fault, which is something we must remember. The world is just a bag of seeds and there is nowhere for the seeds to be planted”). Capping off the book is an index (including classic themes—“Truth,” “Beauty,” “Death,” “Birth”—along with some new ones—“Airplanes, burning”), which suggests these poems should be reread, even referenced—as if this book is a manual for transcending “wild meaninglessness.” “Falling in love with the death thought is a way of never really dying,” Schomburg writes. “You let an idea hold you in its real arms.” These are wildly imagined poems to fall in love with and reread. - Publishers Weekly

Years ago, my grandfather told me a story about a man predicting his own death. The details of it are lost to me now -- I believe the man in the story dreams about his death, foresees that it will occur violently in a certain field. Attempting to avoid that fate, he acquires some vicious guard dogs to ward off danger. And then one day he comes to the very spot on which he's dreamed he'll die, and he becomes terrified, and the dogs sense his fear and turn on him. So he does die on that spot. Like something out of Oedipus, he's caused the death he knew was coming.
That story was in the front of my mind as I read Zachary Schomburg's third full-length collection of poems, FJORDS vol. 1. The book opens with the line "From the very beginning I knew exactly what would kill me." The curious thing about the speaker's prediction is not only that it's true, but also that it kicks off a series of innumerable other deaths, all perhaps caused by the speaker's own obsessions and anxieties.
If you are familiar with Zachary Schomburg's work, you'll be familiar with his compact prose poems, his preference for the sentence over the line, his surreal worlds, his intrusive animals that waver between comforting and terrifying. But FJORDS vol. 1 is not simply a retreading of old territory. It seems to follow a logical progression in Schomburg's oeuvre. The Man Suit, Schomburg's first book, can be read as a sort of discovery of the world. A waking up to the impossible weirdness of what we've all agreed to live in: an exploration of the most-present present. Scary, No Scary, book number two, is a nostalgic exploration of the bizarre nature of childhood -- and a reinterpretation of the present through that lens of the past. And FJORDS vol. 1 is about the future. It's about the fear that comes with talking about the future, with dreaming about the future -- and the specific fear of death that at times becomes so obsessive that it approaches a desire for death.
At times, Schomburg implies that we might desire death because of the nature of twenty-first-century life: a surreal, intrusive, over-stimulating, impossible experience. "I grew old distracting myself from what I knew to be true," the narrator says. How many of us have done this, are doing this right now? We know certain things to be true: global warming, obesity, overfishing, decreased attention spans, Michael Bay's existence, advertising, pink slime masquerading as meat. But to think about these things is terrifying. And so we distract ourselves instead: we check email, we watch YouTube videos of pigs playing with dogs, we TiVo Jimmy Fallon, we run ourselves ragged on treadmills at the gym.
What we don't do if we're trying to avoid reality is write poems, because writing poems is never really a way to escape. It is only a way to embroil yourself further, a way of reckoning. A way of experiencing these deaths and trying to come to terms with what they really are. Schomburg knows this.
And yes, "deaths" is plural. Because we all die multiple deaths, don't we? We die in our dreams all the time. We die in our memories. We die in our photographs. In "Death Letter," the speaker receives a letter stating that the woman he loves is dead. But when he arrives at her house with flowers to pay his respects, he discovers that she is still alive. "When I walk away, flowers in my fist, I think about all the different kinds of death. I wish she would have been dead just like the letter said. There is more truth in that kind of death."
Let's talk about truth. Schomburg's poems are manifestly not "true," in that they unfold in impossible worlds; yet there is something to be said for truth as a tone in Schomburg's work. For a kind of "sincerity" that is not cloying or maudlin because it takes surreal forms. It is possible to be truthful when talking about hawks made out of donuts, in a more real way than the truth that comes with a recitation of historical facts. I know that I am the most true when I am talking about irrational things. I am more true when I say "Sometimes I think the baristas at Starbucks are lying to me" or "I worry that if I get my teeth straightened I will not be able to recognize myself" than when I say "I washed a pair of jeans today."
"Truth" is an entry in the index to this book. All of Schomburg's books have indices, a device that verges on cute-gimmick territory. But the indices operate on more intentional levels. They seem, in part, to taunt the critic who would analyze the book; "Here, I know you're interested in themes, so I pointed some out for you." But they don't just identify themes, they testify to them. There is something to be said for acknowledging your obsessions, owning up to the things you can't get away from -- organizing them alphabetically to give them some semblance of order, when really they're raging inside your head.
"The world is always as it is, and always as it seems," as Schomburg notes in "The Animal Spell." There will always be black swans and refrigerators and fists and eyes everywhere we look. What can you really do about that but write it down and note the page numbers and try not to let it swallow you up? That is the only honest option. In "A Life In Space," Schomburg writes, "You promised me we'd live in a different universe, but when we arrived, everything was the same -- the gravity, the stars lined up like teeth." There is no different universe. There's just this one, over and over. These days, these deaths. And if there is any comfort, it only resides in the most dangerous territory.
Take "Neighborhood Plague":
My neighbors have been dying, one after the other in a row, each day, from east to west. You told me that if I didn't want to end up dead like my neighbors, that I should keep moving west. That seems like the last direction I'd want to move in.
We should not move in the direction that death is moving -- it will catch up with us, of course. It will sneak up on us from behind and take us and no one around us will care because everyone will be dying, too. No, the solution is to move in the direction from which death has already come. To go back into the wake of death. Only then can we begin to deal with it. Only then can we begin to stop being afraid and start listening. We all have a dead person inside of us ("I Am the Dead Person Inside Me"). And we have to let it breathe to cope with the life we live in now, the life of customized cake frosting and movie theaters and expensive dress shirts and events that seem like causes but don't reap any immediate effects, until we die, and then we think maybe that was the effect. Or we would think that, anyway, if we were still alive to think it.
Schomburg's meditations on death (and on the opposite but equal phenomenon, living forever, which appropriately enough shares an index entry with "Death") often seem to be a way of thinking about what it means to be present, to be breathing in the now, to be a human in a busy world. As much as the speaker might be attempting to fool you into thinking that he thinks it's all meaningless, this whole "let's eat breakfast and go to our jobs and watch movies" routine, it's clear he can't live up to his own cynicism. That he, too, is striving to prove what he feels in his (attacked) heart to be true: that there is some importance at the root of all this, that life (like Schomburg's poetry) will keep surprising us with meanings just when we've given up: "We think we've figured it out, and then it is a fist that comes exploding from our eyes." - Elizabeth Cantwell


Zachary Schomburg, Scary No Scary, Black Ocean, 2009.

«Scary, No Scary, the follow-up to Zachary Schomburg’s acclaimed first collection of poems The Man Suit, is a book of skeleton gloves and skeleton keys—at once dark and playful. With loneliness and levity Schomburg takes the reader on a tour through a liminal world of dream-logic, informed by its own myth and folklore. Here there are new kinds of trees and new ways of naming the ages; jaguars and an abandoned hotel on the horizon. This book will crawl inside your chest and pump lava through your blood.»

«Schomburg is possibly the man who will save poetry for all of those readers who are about to give up on the genre. Scary No Scary is both funny and ridiculously original. A playful, mournful, and sometimes sweet collection full of fantastic images and odd dialogue.» - Kevin Sampsell

«The last great book I read was the very recent Scary, No Scary by Zachary Schomburg, released from Black Ocean Press in August. I was a big fan of the previous collection from Schomburg, The Man Suit, and was hoping that Scary, No Scary would be equivalent. It is not. Scary, No Scary is far better, much sharper and more drawn from images, shaking through the reader in its short and livid sentences.
Divided into sections, the overall text is still somehow connected by word associations: trees, hummingbirds, bones, empty houses, hauntings. And this is what made it so great for me, because it didn’t read like a collection but instead like fractures of an epic poem, fragments of a (prose) poem novel(la). I dove through once as soon as the mail came because the cover is vibrant and torturously teasing, but then the close of the text, ending with a new version of The Pond, one of my favorite releases from Greying Ghost, it begs you back through, asks you to wander again, electrified by its words.
Zachary Schomburg understands how to tilt a board filled with language up and towards his mouth. He rolls you down like that, to the teeth, staring at a black throat threatening everything. Scary, No Scary made me love poetry again, made me understand how it can fit together, how a collection can be a book, and how a book can stir and pour over me, ruffling all my feathers into new flight.» - J. A. Tyler

«There is an index at the back of Zachary Schomburg's second book of poetry, Scary, No Scary. Many books of poetry contain an index, usually an alphabetical list of the poems' titles. Schomburg's index, however, lists 84 themes that appear throughout the poems; for instance, “Birthday, or the idea of apologizing for missing one's party” can be found on pages 24 and 62, poems about “Leaving (and never returning)” can be found on 10 different pages, while “Sawing in half, or the idea of division” can be found on 6 pages, though you might want to also look at the poems listed under “Part-species, or hybrid species (see also Sawing in half).” Schomburg's poems, gracefully arranged across 79 pages, are just as strange and unorthodox as the index of themes, but the book's uncanny beauty isn't limited to these numerical games: this is a cohesive and (successfully) daring collection of poems, often reading like the diary of a delusional child-prodigy, with an absurd yet compelling narrative strung throughout.
As the title suggests, Scary, No Scary attempts to find the thin line (if it even exists) between terror and pleasure. What better way to do this than by relying on an adolescent's perspective, albeit a highly intelligent, highly promiscuous youth, living in a seemingly post-apocalyptic universe. The landscape of Scary, No Scary is unchartered literary territory: chandeliers made from broken dishes, nameless men and women transforming into trees, boys becoming hummingbirds, and twins named “Invisible” and “Not Invisible.” As frightening as all this might sound, Schomburg’s tone remains hilarious throughout: “Either way, let’s not just stand here/with our fingers up our butts.”
If Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is this generation’s great somber novel about the post-apocalyptic world, Scary, No Scary makes the end of modern civilization look a bit more fun, and much more psychedelic. Like The Road, Schomburg’s future universe is devoid of personal identity: “Neither of us have names / especially you.” Life is rather abundant as well, especially trees. We can all rest assured that the youth of the post-world will still be afraid of entering the woods late at night, not fearful of wild animals or witches, but fearful of finding what is “half-buried” beneath dead leaves, be it a bodiless woman or one’s own beating heart. Becoming part of the woods, too, is of great concern:
Soon you’ll be
more tree
than person.
You’ll go camping in the woods
and never come back.
Animal life is also abundant, especially insects and hummingbirds, both of which humans can randomly turn into:
How do you tell someone
their family is
tiny insects?
How do you tell someone
their boy is
a hummingbird?
Jaguars, too: “You were becoming more and more jaguar.”
But even with all this anthropomorphic action, the post-apocalyptic teenager still retains teenage desires. Unlike today’s youths, who are really only concerned with accidental pregnancy and unwelcomed transmitted diseases (if they are concerned about anything), the sexually adventurous kids of Schomburg’s future have bigger concerns, such as choosing “between floating eternally in a buoyant cage of hummingbird bones down a river of lava or a river of blood.” Break-ups, too, will take on a different form, as seen in the prose poem “Goodbye Lessons”: “I have to say goodbye... I will know that goodbyes are when you eat yourself to death.” In The Road, we had to be concerned with cannibalistic wanderers eating our children; in Scary, No Scary, we need to be concerned about our kids eating themselves. All concerns aside, these kids are still looking for a good place to make out:
I know a place where we can escape the dead hummingbird
problem, a pond no one knows about, cold and clean. It is fed
by a mountain stream. We can take off all our clothes there and
maybe have sex.
Scary, No Scary is organized into four sections. The first is mainly comprised of short, wonderfully sonic lyrics, reminiscent of Robert Creeley (in the midst of a bad LSD trip) or, more recently, Graham Foust (if Foust was an evil clown). These poems introduce the narrator and his views on the scarce world in which he lives. The second section consists mainly of prose poems, surreal yet darkly beautiful, like a horror-core band (comprised of musicians who really know how to play their instruments) interpreting James Tate. The final two sections are sequences, the first being “The Histories” and the second “The Pond.” “The Histories” tells a story of the narrator in his dining room (which doesn’t actually exist) setting a table with dishes beneath a chandelier (none of which exist, either) in a dark, floorless and ceiling-less house. All that exists, it seems, is the narrator, who simply describes this non-existent scene. “The Pond” may be referring to the pond where the narrator takes his lover earlier in the book, but we will never know for sure, since the narrator is unsure of everything:
At the edge of the pond
someone who looks like me
is holding hands
with someone who looks like you.
I begin to wonder who I am
because I don’t look like me.
So what are we to make of Zachary Schomburg’s universe in Scary, No Scary? Should we be fearful of what is to come after the apocalypse? Of course, but instead of being afraid of cannibals and violence, we should be afraid of morphing into hummingbirds and having to apologize for missing a friend’s birthday party. Will the end of the world bring just the “scary” or the “no scary” as well? As far as we can tell, there will be a combination of both. One of the only moments where the narrator actually tells us he is fearful of something comes from “The Black Hole”: “I’m afraid of myself.” Considering this could be said about most people today, things might not be too different. Hopefully, each day that comes after the apocalypse will flow into the next as perfectly as the movements of these poems.» - Timothy Henry

Zachary Schomburg, The Man Suit, Black Ocean, 2007.

«The Man Suit, a darkly comic debut from poet Zachary Schomburg, assembles a macabre cast of doppelgangers, talking animals and dead presidents in poems that explore concepts of identity, truth and fate. The resulting body of work walks a dynamic line often reading like anecdotal fables or cautionary tales in the form of prose poems. Through it all, Schomburg balances irony with sincerity; wit with candor; and a playful tone with the knowledge of inevitable sorrow.»

«The often funny yet haunting prose and verse poems of this eagerly anticipated debut deal with the subtle and unexpected ways things can transform, usually just beneath an observer's awareness. In "Postcard from the Arctic Ocean" the speaker can "make smoke signals/ by burning/ these postcards/ by the handful." With similarly flippant but persistent gestures, Schomburg pushes at the boundaries of logic. He asks for a willing suspension of disbelief and of order. Non sequitur and clever opposition govern this world: a homicidal monster- cum-TV celebrity is fired in favor of a "gorilla dressed in people clothes"; in "I'm Not Carlos," "tree machines" dial up the poem's speaker, calling him Carlos and demanding he hand over "the Man Suit." A poem called "I've Since Folded This Poem into an Airplane" admits Schomburg's comfort with the self-conscious and reflexive in poetry. If a few of these poems are slight, the best of them imbue whimsy with high emotional stakes, suggesting this collection's casualness has been carefully wrought. Schomburg may be one of the sincerest surrealists around.» - Publishers Weekly

"Zachary Schomburg is a wildly imaginative poet who will take you many places you've never been or even dreamed of, always with grace and quirky humor. Whether you are caught in Abraham Lincoln's Death Scene or the Sea of Japan, you are certain to enjoy the original vision of this highly entertaining poet. It's a book like no other." - James Tate

"It is a rare and fine thing when a poet momentarily affiliates his words and his cadences with the entirety of a world, thus freeing his poem from all burden of mediation, all transgression. In our own era, Rene Char and Pablo Neruda come most vividly to mind in this regard. With The Man Suit, Zachary Schomburg, quietly but with deep conviction, begins to join their company. His book is a blessing." - Donald Revell

"Zachary Schomburg's The Man Suit comes to us from the past but it is a thoroughly new book. It comes to us out of the familiar and it strikes us in the face with its novelty. You will recognize your own history, the history of our nation, the influence of Mad Magazine and Benjamin Peret. And underneath it all, and what holds it all together, however unlikely, is the deep and abiding love of the little things that make up our days." - Matthew Rohrer

«Delightfully bewildering, The Man Suit is less a book of poems and more an unlikely conglomeration of images and ideas that manage to function beautifully as one cohesive unit. These poems and paragraphs demand to be read aloud - both performance and text are indispensable to achieving the full effect.
The book does not waste time churning up the succession of poems before it. These poems spring forward or, when that’s not feasible, sideways. Do expect self-consciousness - the book buzzes with solipsism, paralysis, confusion and isolation. Yet somehow the dark undercurrent that fuels this collection never extinguishes the glow of its playfulness.
Take a look at the first three poems and try to keep a straight face. In just three pages Schomburg introduces a monster that’s supposed to be telling jokes, a gorilla dressed in people clothes, a pirate, a girl wearing a large, wooden wedding cake, and a man dressed as an avocado. The tone wavers between weird, hilarious, insightful, and subtly devious.
In the first poem, “The Monster Hour,” we see a monster on stage who keeps on trying to kill the audience instead of telling jokes. The monster doesn’t seem able to control himself, so the producers replace him with a gorilla and a Wurlitzer. It’s silly, slightly baffling, yet manages to edge itself up to something very familiar and vaguely haunting.
The second poem seems serious at first. It creates a possibly artistic scene in which a man and a naked women are trying to interpret the black square painted on her stomach. Then, where another poet might have written an oblique but mysterious aphorism, Schomburg writes simply, “A pirate enters.” The message is clear. Take off the black beret and put down the expensive pinot noir. You probably couldn’t tell it apart from boxed merlot anyway.
At this point one wonders if the book is going to be spitefully irreverent, but Schomburg dispels any fears with the third poem, “The Center of Worthwhile Things,” perhaps the thesis of the entire book. A girl dressed as a wedding cake and a guy dressed as an avocado make love on a cliff over a lake, and the speaker wonders at the lack of theatrical accompaniment to life’s quiet, but unusual moments, “It was a night of being backstage I thought, where nothing held its illusion, where everything was exposed as an actor.”
The Man Suit never fully lets down its guard though. That’s its charm. It deals in oceans and islands, opera singers and owls, axe-murderers and action figures. It is a collection of inquiries into how we are supposed to deal with this man suit once we’ve put it on. When we stand in the spotlight, whether on stage or at a party full of sadists and murderers, how are we supposed to handle ourselves?
Amidst the many clever, funny, and sometimes confusing poems are a few themed chunks. One is titled only pictorially: a black telephone beside a white telephone. It is oblique, sometimes funny, sometimes vaguely satirical. By the end of the twelve pages, though, it manages to create the sensation that maybe there are mysteries patterned in the banalities and common objects of everyday life.
Another chunk of the book, “Abraham Lincoln’s Death Scene,” was previously published as a chapbook. Its sixteen paragraphs read like the script for an experimental movie made by a director who was completely unconscious of the extent to which pop culture had scrambled his creative faculties. Expect sexy legs in fishnet stockings, Siamese triplets, religious symbols, splattered blood, flames engulfing practically everything, and far too many smoking guns.
The Man Suit is more than a collection of witty poems and off-beat jokes. Schomburg has encapsulated modern life in just one hundred or so pages. The bizarre imagination that spirals through the poems wonders, creates, and feeds upon itself. By the end of the book, as the things that haunt the space between consciousness and daydream take shape, the image in “A Voice Box With Words Still In It” will bring tears to your eyes, and even if you’ve read this review, you won’t know what hit you.» - D. Richard Scannell

«The Man Suit [is] really good—full of surreal images and dream logic
Here’s an image that stuck with me: a voicebox—removed from its throat—still full of words. A person can pick up said word-filled voicebox, and blow through it to hear what was left unsaid when the voicebox belonged to a body.
I am fairly certain that some time in the future, I will forget that I read about this voicebox in The Man Suit by Zachary Schomburg, and I will use it in a story, thinking I came up with it. I’m sorry, Zachary. Eventually I will remember, and then I will feel bad for stealing from you.
(This has happened before. I have an as-yet-unpublished story that features a character named Boy. I stole this from a Peter Markus piece I read on elimae. I thought it had been my idea. There are other examples.)
(Actually, I wonder if this post will serve to stop this from happening. If it will immunize me from the Schomburg voicebox image that could some day infect my writing.)
Is this a bad thing? I’m not sure it is a great crime for artists to steal from one another in this way. Art bubbles up from a subconscious place, and it shouldn’t shock anyone that the things that bubble up are dropped into the stew of the subconscious mind by other artists.
Are you familiar with the concept of sperm trains? Some animals create sperm cells that hook themselves onto one another. They drag one another toward their goal. And move faster. The voicebox, I’m pretty sure, will one day find another idea hooking itself onto it, and they will both swim out onto a page of my writing.
Because I feel bad that I will steal from you, Mr. Schomburg, I would like to at least pay you the royalty you should’ve gotten for the book I purchased used. If you would like, I don’t know, five dollars, you should write to me at giantblinditems at gmail dot com.
Please use the comments section of this post to cop to things you have stolen.» - Matthew Simmons

«In March of last year, I was one of a few editors who organized an off-site reading at AWP (The Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference) in Austin, TX. One of the readers that evening was Zachary Schomburg. His surreal, insightful, hilarious, heartfelt poems won me over immediately, and I have been keeping track of his work ever since. Luckily, Janaka Stucky of Black Ocean Press was also taken with Schomburg’s poetry that same night. After being a finalist for several major contests over the course of four years, The Man Suit was finally published by Black Ocean Press, and while it feels like this book could be on any number of larger, more decorated presses, the object that is The Man Suit could not contain Schomburg’s poetry any better. From the ominous cover by Lincoln, NE-based artist Denny Schmickle, to the prose poem-friendly trim size, to the black and white telephone icons that mark The Man Suit’s second section, the actual book makes me grateful that it ended up at Black Ocean.
I emphasize ‘contain’ because The Man Suit , as the title implies, is a book largely about costumes and what those costumes contain. The book is dotted with humans in costumes: an avocado and a wedding cake, a lung and a haircut, etc. And even when they are not in costumes per se, people are wearing log cabins and even whole ecosystems. One woman turns out to be an owl. In the section called Abraham Lincoln’s Death Scene , the backdrop is of course a theater, so costumes abound.
In fact, costumes are so prevalent that they become the norm, and it is the human form that becomes, in effect, the other. What Schomburg successfully manipulates in general is the reader’s perception of what is banal versus what is exotic and powerful—a regular opera singer, a tree, or a telephone becomes as unique as an opera singer filled with trees, a tree filled with inappropriately dressed women, or a telephone housing a family of tiny spiders. A regular human head becomes just as shocking as one that is blood-spattered.
True to form, The Man Suit ’s title poem, “I’m Not Carlos,” begins with a costume: “There is a whole forest of tree machines outside Saginaw / that have been programmed to turn on me.” Here, machines are dressed as trees. But this is not the only Schomburgian trope these lines employ. The use of Saginaw is another.
The locales in The Man Suit have an almost folksy myth-like quality to them (Johannes Göransson, on his blog Exoskeleton, points out that much of Schomburg’s tone may very well come from the American tall tale tradition). Pulled from either standard jokes or pranks—Lake Titicaca for example—or perhaps from Schomburg’s personal mythology, or simply from his vast imagination, places like the Electric Mole, Canada, the Sea of Japan, any number of Great Lakes or Prince-named islands, are appropriated from their world of origin and placed into the world of this book. His characters, when dressed up, have two identities: the costumed and the uncostumed. The same holds true for Schomburg’s locales. Like the Magritte painting in which we are confronted with both our cultural notion of a train and the surrealist image of a train barreling out of a fireplace, “I’m Not Carlos” forces us to oscillate between the Saginaw in Michigan and the Saginaw in The Man Suit . Between some guy named Carlos in the world and some guy named Carlos in a poem called “I’m Not Carlos:” “Sometimes they call me on the telephone and whisper / things. Give us the man suit, Carlos. Just give us the man suit .”
This is another Schomburg trademark: violence. Or in this particular case, the threat of violence. These tree machines are programmed to do the speaker in, especially, as it turns out, if they aren’t given the man suit. While it is shadowed by real-world violence, much like the places and characters of The Man Suit are shadowed by their real-world counterparts, this violence is not grotesque or worrisome. In one of the prose blocks in {Opera Singer}, Schomburg makes this explicit:
“Let’s hear {opera singer} while the forests
collapse in on themselves, while the fire takes the swans.
Things quickly get out of hand. Just as quickly, things are
One gets the sense that most of the damage done by the violence throughout the book can just as easily be undone. I can imagine some readers pointing out this discrepancy between the actual thing and the thing in the book as a flaw—the neutering of such things as violence. It seems to me, however, that The Man Suit successfully negotiates a deal with the reader via the democratic surrealism with which all of its subject matter is treated, rendering such objections moot. The places in The Man Suit will only remind you of places, humans will only remind you of humans, and hemorrhaging will only remind you of hemorrhaging. By decontextualizing violence, much like he does his places and characters, Schomburg puts the impetus on the reader to note the resonance between the violence of their world, and the violence of his.
As the title implores us to believe, the speaker of “I’m Not Carlos” isn’t Carlos. But Carlos does appear and/or is mentioned, according to the handy index in the back of The Man Suit , seven times, and repetition like this is par for the course. Abraham Lincoln, or “Abe,” appears throughout the book, not just in Abraham Lincoln’s Death Scene . Even his famous log cabin is featured multiple times. Marlene appears and reappears in several poems, and then an “M” factors heavily in Abraham Lincoln’s Death Scene . The list of repetitive characters, themes, and places (even Saginaw is brought up again) is endless. My first instinct was to be critical of such arcs—it seemed that the now fashionable idea of a book as a unified whole and not simply a collection of poems got the best of Schomburg. I asked myself what the index might look like if the arcs were less manipulated and instead were organic results of an artist’s obsessions. But invariably, these arcs feel necessary, sewing the book together like a repetitive strain of melody played in various songs on a concept album. Perhaps the arcs could be more organic. Perhaps Schomburg’s fingerprints are a bit too prevalent in the creation of those arcs. But part of the book’s inherent music is its self-consciousness—a self-consciousness, in addition to the repetition, that may well be an organic aesthetic, one that has a lineage outside of poetry. David Letterman comes to mind, as if Schomburg is about to say, “Did you hear that, Paul… inappropriately dressed!”
For me, this self-conscious repetition is another extension of the costume idea, but instead of an actual disguise, the subject is denatured either by seeing it in a variety of contexts or through shear overexposure (like saying a word over and over again to make it sound weird). For Carlos, this repetition seems to haunt the speaker at times, making him question his own identity. In the third poem of the black telephone/white telephone section, not-Carlos is at a loss: “The white telephone is still ringing. It is a call for / somebody named Carlos—I’m sure of it. It is the only call I / seem to get anymore.” The tone here is one of exasperation, as if the speaker, himself disoriented by the repetitious phone calls, might be ready to concede that maybe they’re right… maybe he is Carlos.
Schomburg expertly defamiliarizes familiar things—for his readers and characters alike—so that the man suit, this thing that defines our human form, is itself a disguise, one that renders us a bit confused as to our own identity. Sort of the ultimate costume. What this allows us to do is view ourselves with rare objectivity. This, along with its breadthless imagination and its dueling undercurrents of despair and humor makes Zachary Schomburg’s The Man Suit an indispensable first book.» - Chris Tonelli

«Zachary Schomburg’s debut collection of poetry, The Man Suit, features a mysterious coffin floating through the night sky. The cover captures the essence of the poetry. In the collection, whales are able to talk, monsters have human qualities, and a lung and haircut have a relationship. Schomburg’s mixture of everyday meditations and bizarre occurrences will grip readers' attention. In “Policy for Whales,” Schomburg presents readers with the bizarre idea that,“There was a whale singing a sincere and flawless rendition of The Thrill is Gone in a nightclub.” As the poem demonstrates, Schomburg exercises admirable control over his juxtapositions, and thus leaves the reader amused and satisfied.
For a debut collection of poetry, it is a longer book at 105 pages, but Schomburg has divided it into several sections. The sections are little chapbooks that intensify the strangeness of the world he has created. The first of these chapbooks tells the story of two phones. In one poem the speaker says, “There is a man around here somewhere, in the woods behind my house, who has a white telephone for a head. He has loud buzzing chainsaws for arms.” Audiences will find enjoyment in the uncanny, and be reminded of the weird things they might have imagined as children, when the world was still fresh and unexplored.
“What Everyone Started Wearing” is one of the strangest poems of the collection. It begins, “Everyone started wearing small log cabins on their heads. They opened the windows so they could see each other, and they opened the front doors so they could speak to each other.” The idea seems unreal to a reader, yet it is delivered in such a matter-of-fact manner that we may want to acquire log cabins for our own heads, becoming the newest victims of contagious fashion.
Schomburg shifts from prose poems to free verse through the collection. The first poem, “The Monster Hour,” is a prose poem, while other poems like “Letter to the Late Baron” demand line breaks in order to dramatize the narrative of the story. The shifting of styles allows the reader to simply absorb the stories and laugh at the bizarre humor. This shift in format is quite effective, as the poems never become daunting to the reader, despite the risks taken throughout.
The other chapbook sections also tell stories of the strange, with titles like “Abraham Lincoln’s Death Scene” and “[Opera Singer].” The strange becomes expected and the normal unexpected with The Man Suit, to the extent that we may begin viewing our surroundings differently, perhaps with a more suspicious eye. The phone ringing on our desk may not be a phone after all.» - Frank DePoole

«It would be fair to say surrealism in American poetry had a late start. Probably delayed by the Moderns. Probably, as Dana Gioia asserts, the need for a meaningful dreamscape in art was met in other ways, like animated cartoons. So it seems that in the seventies, in American poetry, Edson, Tate, Simic and even Donald Justice tried out surrealism to release verse from its fences and prose poetry from its dull labor. Simic perhaps had atavism for surrealism by virtue of being Eastern European and having grown up in the middle of a war. Edson came to it most likely as the best vehicle for his everyman scenarios. Tate endured in that vein, turning out material that felt cut quite from its own cloth. But the need for automatic writing that has been crafted to represent something with the burning intensity of childhood’s mind — as Breton defines surrealism — persists into today’s aesthetics.
Zachary Schomburg’s debut collection of poetry The Man Suit takes surreal and meaningful stances, a few approaching disorder and chaos. The volume layers its themes and recurring figures the way music can double back to make sure your heart grows heavy: a sweetheart named Marlene, an ominous Everyman, Carlos, parables about the woods, myths about women like hollowed out trees later balanced by myths about men like hollowed out trees, macabre and giddy reinterpretations of history. The latter include not only the poems from Schomburg’s chapbook Abraham Lincoln’s Death Scene but sophisticated, abstracted cosmologies reminiscent of Edson or Simic or Tate, well-anchored in sadness and bright with touches of disarming humor.
The poems deploy weights and counterweight pairs like the civilized and the brutal; the real and the uncanny, or an almost grotesque sweetness trying to mask loneliness. These counteractive forces allow Schomburg to write poems about ontological absurdities already gestured at in American poetry. His poems distinguish themselves with a particular kind of humor, and by underscoring the fabricated qualities of history, and the sad finality of our destruction of nature.
There is in Schomburg’s surrealism a combination of the civilized and the brutal that insists on the extinguishable quality of humanness. Like Tate, Schomburg records a twisted, neighborly hope, or, like Edson, violent, dreary complications of the everyday. Some examples like “Far From Marlene” start out with the crowd viewing the magically afflicted, in this case, a man with birds nesting in his “messed up” hair. Soon the poem matches delicacy like, “Birds are in it/laying eggs” with “He’s heard this shit before/and he gets in full/karate stance.” The diction of the latter quote could seem sophomorically set against the quiet of the first lines except that the poem shifts point of view (or reveals a hidden point of view). The poem ends with the “I” writing the ubiquitous Marlene a letter about the guy with birds in his hair and ends with the understatement, “I go on to tell her/about the birds/and the cake/using some pretty/good cursive.” That “pretty good” emotionally removes the angry karate guy as a phenomenon, not an easy joke. All the objects in the poem, chocolate cake, a large knife, the cursive, Marlene, feel like a meta-message about automatic communication and numbness in the face of the brutal.
This pairing of the surreal and the plain – and the askew jump in point of view – removes reality and humanity from the poem, the way the idea of motion seems sucked out of a painting by Hopper. The effect has as much “joke” in the tone as surrealist predecessors, but the joke is not in the people and objects Schomburg sets before us. A similar paralysis occurs in many poems, like “I’ve Since Folded This Poem into an Airplane” in which Marlene, it turns out, is made of snow. In “Halloween” the speaker actually makes his own emblem of false feeling, a sock puppet – a move critic Frederick Karl would ascribe a Southern feeling for its combination of the grotesque and the formal – then uses it to rein in the unruly beard on the real face of the speaker. The speaker’s personality, feelings, self-constructed happiness, the body’s needs, become a process held at an eerie remove. When aliens in “I’m Not Carlos” ask the speaker “(g)ive us the man suit, Carlos,” Schomburg delivers a pleasurably spooky emphasis to haphazard, vulnerable existence.
What also feels new is Schomburg’s use of the historical in the portion of the book, “Abraham Lincoln’s Death Scene, “ also a chapbook by Horse Less Press. André Breton said, “(Surrealism) is by definition free from any fidelity to circumstances, especially to the intoxicating circumstances of history.” Yet, the long series of poems about Abraham Lincoln’s assassination allow the frame of history to appear.
The sequence starts with about five lines that seem a straightforward account of the 16th president’s assassination. Then the “angelic face” of M., the reader might think, is the recurring figure of Marlene suddenly gone back in time. Though the poem refers to the killer Booth and his expressions, wild figures tear logic apart: daggers in the ceiling, a sexy legged accomplice and a “blood-spattered St. Bernard”. The borders of this reproduction diorama have fallen down and randomness proceeds to cyclone anything through its winds. The attachment to the recurring, human characters is constantly torn apart. The reader has to reassemble the juxtaposed times, realities and objects over and over – including Lincoln killing “a few audience members… before turning the revolver on himself”.
Freud used to argue that the surreal didn’t really come from the unconscious, that surrealism was a quite an ego-dominated and shaped surface. Many parts of the Lincoln section seem to have rustic realistic edges and in others the speaker seems to wink at the audience, “M. thinks this is entirely untrue, but I have my suspicions.”. The outrageousness becomes broad, scrambled, and hard to engage with as in Japanese noise music, even for long passages. Then, suddenly, it seems the unconscious (or is it the conscious mind leading the unconscious) waves a little hand toward an end: In a cogent, sad, litany of flames shaped like various objects, the reader detects how Lincoln himself becomes meaningless and ephemeral as our history’s own insistent violence continues:
“A woman-shaped flame. A whale-shaped flame. An ocean-shaped flame. The woman-shaped flame is inside the whale-shaped flame. The whale-shaped flame is inside the ocean-shaped flame...A breach-shaped flame...A Lincoln-shaped flame directly behind Lincoln. It is his soul on fire. It has already left his body...A Lincoln-shaped flame. A Lincoln-shaped flame”.
By the end of the sequence, Schomburg’s speaker and his M. are back at home by a fire, and American insouciance and comfort in the form of the couple once again frame and keep at arm’s length an infernal, bloody, nonsensical history – the fire. The poem adds up to a performance piece, dotted with a humor and violence that could seem irrelevant except that the ignored lessons of history seem to be the undeniably urgent message set forth.
If Schomburg insists – with a kind of airy, goofy humor’s help – that human existence is ephemeral and numbed, and that history is a monster piece of chaos subsumed by self-interest, Schomburg’s surrealism seems ultimately to remind the reader that pure nature is ending. Early in the book, the poem “What Everyone is Wearing” uses ecosystems and trees on an absurd scale to permit a scolding chaos to whip up. The potentially environmental message is drowned by a deeply subjective, at-root cynical equation of nature and human existence: “The tiny canaries cleared some space in the trees on their heads to wear small apartment complexes there. The tiny rabbits: supermarkets. The tiny elk cleared space to wear small churches on their heads and even tinier people started worshipping there”.
These last lines of the poem critiques our hubris in the face of all of nature, and the changeable nature of our livelihood, sustainability, etc. This vulnerability to shape-shifting makes a particularly hilarious turn in “A Band of Owls Moved into Town”. The invasion of a small town by owls is discussed in the tsk-ing manner we save for urban sprawl or darker attitudes usually masking racism, “A band of owls moved into town. They shopped for groceries and ran for office, that kind of thing.” This satire of fears, rendered as xenophobia of owls, ends with an exchange between the speaker and Julia, a “daughter of new and prosperous socialites...”. She agrees that she and the speaker are the only two “who... who...” That’s the end of the poem. The reader is helpless before this kind of goofy punning that also implies the inescapable likeness between all – owls and townies: find your own parallels in real life.
Sometimes the fabulous chaos of The Man Suit makes a funny, absurd, strident sound that it also critiques, but other times the poems are in such focus at the joining point of the humorously surreal and the painful, that you can’t help but want to know what this young poet’s work will become in the next decades. I would bet Schomburg’s work will be truly frightening, and I would hope that it remains a bit moral and devastating, as in another of the poems that indicate an end to nature. In “A Voice Box with Words Still in It,” the last poem of the collection, our old friend, the somewhat ironically human Carlos finds a voice box “inside the throat of a dead sheep”. If you “blow just right” into the voice box, it reveals the bucolic and wholesome secrets only a human would think a sheep contemplates: “where the best and worst grass is” and “how to blend it”. An unknown speaker tests Carlos’ hypothesis and the true voice of the sheep blisters in this terror-filled line:
Me: {I take a shallow breath and blow}. I am dying, so cold without wool, and afraid.» - Cynthia Arrieu-King

Zachary Schomburg, Pond, Greying Ghost Press, 2009.

[also the final section of Scary, No Scary]

«Ponds serve as a marker. A marker of wealth. A marker of geography. A marker of personal history. But in the case of Zachary Schomburg's The Pond, it is a marker of a clear, but subtle shift in one of contemporary poetry's most exciting voices. Where Schomburg's first full length collection, The Man Suit, reappropriated James Tate for the wandering and curious, The Pond reads more like a discovery, albeit one you'd only share with your best friend/lover. There are moments in this book that are so bold and yet so innocent your face blushes as a sense of embarrassment creeps into your toes;
I'll show you the cave
where all the bats come from.
You'll show me that place
between your knees
where my hand goes.
The single most amazing aspect of this book though, is Schomburg's awareness of that fact...and his subsequent use of this awareness to turn you from voyeur to active participant.
Where many other poems by many other poets would place the audience in their usual role as onlooker, Schomburg's poems pull out the chair for you, invite you to sit, and the invitation is so cordial that every time he mentions "you" or "we" the reader is almost made to squeal with excitement. You are the one chosen to hear all these secrets, you are the one he loves, we are going to have quite the adventure figuring this world out. And though it has never been Schomburg's tenor to alienate the reader with dense language and general poet's trickery, the simpleness of these poems increases your need to connect with them... their eagerness to speak to you demands an equal eagerness to listen attentively, caringly.
It's in this way that The Pond becomes more like a reflecting pool. This collection is decidedly Zachary Schomburg and yet, it is decidedly me, decidedly you. The magic of these poems doesn't necessarily take place within the printed words, but in the space between what those words are meant to symbolize and how those symbols are acknowledged in the brain. Meaning, when Schomburg mentions "the pond," I envision a specific pond (it's the one in front of my aunt's house), as do you, and Schomburg does nothing to stop it, in fact, these poems only work when you imagine that pond, at which point, you are no longer being asked to play in Zachary Schomburg's world, rather, you unknowingly invite him to play in yours.
You spend most of the day in the pond.
Every time you blink your eyelashes fall out
and then quickly grow back.
I spend all day collecting them.
They're what I make boats out of.
We like to ride bikes and fly kites together.
It's in these spaces where our brains infuse Schomburg's lines into our actual memories, like a lie you've told one too many times, and though it might feel a little creepy to admit, isn't this what we all really desire in our poetry? To have it be lived by someone? To be a marker of some kind somewhere? Jack Spicer used to mention magic everytime he talked about poetry, and "The Pond" is as close to a magical experience as I've ever had reading poems. To be honest, it is the book that made me reconsider my stance on both magic and poetry...
Congratuations Zach, James Tate might be the master illusionist, but I'll take the wonder of a good coin-in-the-ear any day. Besides, you can only see illusions so many times before you figure them out, but done right, when a magician holds that coin to your eyes, your first instinct will always be to reach back into your ear.» - BJ Love
Zachary Schomburg, I Am a Small Boy, Factory Hollow Press, 2009.

«I Am a Small Boy is a small chapbook.
I Am a Small Boy is full of small poems.
I Am a Small Boy is a small snippet of a great poet.
Ten poems accompanied by drawings from Ben Estes, I Am a Small Boy is another grand and stellar collection by the venerable Zachary Schomburg.
What I find most interesting about this book is how much volume Schomburg is fashions from so few poems, so few lines, so few pages. Here, as in both The Man Suit and Scary, No Scary, the evidence that language needs little to expand, that it can in fact be the grain and the world all at once, rivers of meaning informed by simple drops collecting.
This is a boy who is lost. This is a boy who is longing. This is a boy who is dead. This is a boy who doesn’t know what he wants or is or does or will be. This is a small boy.
When you die
a secret is revealed to you.
This happens to everyone.
But I think I already know
what the secret is.
Probably I am dead.
Maybe birth is the real death.
Maybe living is the secret.
I Am a Small Boy is another way of saying poetry can be small.
I Am a Small Boy is how language molds into drifts.
I Am a Small Boy is another round of Schomburg that is fascinating and sprite.» - J. A. Tyler