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Story Time Mickey Huyck Review by
Michael T. Huyck Jr.
FREAKCIDENTS - A Surrealist Sideshow
by Michael A. Arnzen
Shocklines Press

Let's insert a caveat here - while I really enjoy good poetry, I tend towards poets with dark (duh!) words. Robert Frost bores me silly. Still, there are classics on my shelves. Folks like Baudelaire and Sandburg. I also have some modern poets, like Piccirilli and Addison. If there's one thing I've learned reading the poetry that I am fond of, it's that poetry allows for more play than one can find in other literature. Sure, there are novels that stretch the structure and content paradigms - Danielewski's HOUSE OF LEAVES immediately comes to mind - but those are rare and, often, more energy is wasted discussing the bravado and/or failure of their treatment than the actual story. Not so with poetry. You can go where you want and take any path you'd rather getting there. It's… okaaaaaay.

Still, knowing all this, I didn't expect what I found in FREAKCIDENTS. This chappie ranks right up there as one of the most bizarre collections of anything I've ever pawed through. Not so much in formatting, as Arnzen stays fairly traditional there. But in content - the bruised and sticky and disfigured content. The title tells you, to some degree, what to expect. Freaks. Real P.T. Barnum stuff.

Arnzen breaks the collection roughly in half, with the first eleven poems falling under the category of "The Orphaned" and the second ten masted as "The Employed." Let's go in order, shall we?

The common thread in "The Orphaned", at least on the surface, is that all the subjects are kids. Okay, some haven't passed fetus stage, but that's closer to "kid" than not, right? There's every form of disfigurement here, from misplaced body parts to whole body scabs to quasi-arachnid toddlers. Beneath the surface (and this is common throughout the collection) is something deeper. Social statement? Maybe. Discomforting parallels with our real, day-to-day life? Probably. You're going to have to decide. I know I recognized a few genuine, uncomfortable schoolyard and workplace and family situations disguised behind Arnzen's snapshots of cartoonish disfigurement.

"The Employed" are, well, employed. Working stiffs using their diversity to shake the tin cup in society's face. In line with the title, the subject characters work for a circus or a show. For the most part, these characters leave behind the heartstrings that "The Orphaned" pulled and, instead, deal with more adult situations. Strippers stripping more than clothes. Sword swallowers with throat cancer. Squids playing tag. In other words - good, healthy, horror fun.

Arnzen's style is tight and succinct, as if he's building images beneath a microscope. Regardless how big the picture might be, he's going to crank up the magnification until you only see what he wants you to see. The result is visionary fragments, sharp little pictures that, when taken as a whole, make your stomach squirm. He speaks in regular English and uses common concepts and metaphors, avoiding the pretense that consumes so many other poets.

I'm working off an e-copy, so I can't speak to the packaging. I know the artist involved is GAK, and that speaks volumes itself. An electronic copy of the cover I received proves GAK is still spinning out some of the most original artwork in the genre. This particular example carries his signature angularity through in a neo-Cthulhu freak lunch moment that's not to be missed. I understand that there's to be something on the order of five more GAK works between the covers of the final product.

Try as I might, I can't find anything to complain about. And I did try. Honest. Hand it five BookWyrms.


This review copyright 2003 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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