A Cartography of Empathy
The Flayed City, the recent collection from poet Hari Alluri, leaves no quarter for darkness. This book is a gem of a work from a distinctive, singular voice who brings his talent for storytelling and lyricism to create a synesthesia of memory, journey, and emotion that erases the arbitrariness of borders and draws a map of personal expedition that unfolds into universal human experience.
An incantatory stylist with a deep connection to his surroundings, Alluri is able to pull up the foundations of cities and mountains by the roots, and writes sweeping, melodic pieces that float and dance like an elaborate mobile. The Flayed City presents the idea of metropolis as beaten, weathered, but not broken. Alluri’s nation is a rejection of the ancien régime; a refusal of imperialism. Instead, he gathers disparate families in the city’s weathered arms of ruin and pulls apart the citizenship of state and molds it into the citizenship of lived familial experience. The experience spans the horrors of war, the alienation of the metropolis but also highlights the opportunity to love, and offers the reinvention of community.
Alluri writes: “To beautiful, here I am/the expression on the face of sand/straining toward glass”. In lines like these, he articulates the close proximity between beauty and loss; the intersection of absence and love. While Alluri’s work makes note of loss, violence and ending, he never writes with maudlin affectation. Rather, he creates an opportunity for the reader to find hope amongst the shifting weights of political, social, and environmental change; he creates an opportunity for something to be felt in the age of cynicism and objectification.
It is rare to find someone who is so deft at writing work that is aphoristic and grand; epic in scope and yet so particular in its sensations. The Flayed City is a nation-state defying gravity, gliding gently over the reader’s tongue as they work Alluri’s words into prayer. In lines like “Her grandmother picked that tea/on a mountain. A mountain in a war/whose shores were her bed. Steeping, the petals/open as if they know nothing of bullets” the reader can experience the transfiguration of displacement into blossom.
These words resonate within me as timeless echoes; these words are a conjuring of an ancient flame burning throughout our invisible infrastructure; these words are a recognition of the holiness of disaster and of renewal. As we enter into the miasma of a new, and frankly terrifying epoch, I take comfort in knowing that the voice of Hari Alluri will continue to burn bright.
A Gorgeous Loss
Printed as the liner notes of a record jacket and supplemented by a 7” EP, with musical accompaniment by multi-instrumentalist Randy Faucheux, Psychic Privates by Kim Vodicka is a hilarious, obscene, tender, vulgar, and beautiful chapbook.
To an inflexible, or rather, reflexive reader, it is easy to see how, at first glance, they could be discouraged, or worse, offended by Vodicka’s crassness or obscenity.
However, the chapbook, which will be included as part of a full-length collection of the same name to be published by White Stag Press in 2018, and its accompanying recording, is anything but shy, and instead of compromise, Vodicka owns her explicitness and screams ecstatically into the ether, summoning her audience to engage in the confrontation head-on.
In Psychic Privates, Vodicka employs the obscene to great effect in often hilarious and surprising ways, and cleverly combines her playful diction, love of double-entendres, and humor into a reading experience that asks her audience to suspend their own fastidiousness and discomfort, and instead, to get dirty.
Vodicka takes a carton of matches and a tank of gasoline to the male gaze, sexual violence, and watches it all burn; rearranges the refuse of chauvinism; and reassembles it into a collage, pushing the language and her readers to uncomfortable lengths in order to destroy the language of shame, humiliation, and disenfranchisement.
At its core, Psychic Privates shows readers a refusal to cede power to the expectations of decency, and a repudiation of the pressures of misogyny and bigotry. For even beyond the hilarious and the obscene, there is an incredible vulnerability and strength in Vodicka’s work and as Vodicka turns language on its head, she blindfolds her readers, takes off their civility, and leaves everyone exposed.
While the discussions over artistic license versus artistic responsibility are essential and important (I happen to fall into the latter camp), it is authors like Vodicka, who beckon their audience to push the conversation, the media, and the methods to the edges of possibility in order to wrestle with these complex and controversial ideas, and to find growth in unexpected places.
Even as academics, poets, readers, and reviewers, continue to hash out these disagreements online and in print, if anything, it is the itchy hilarity, exquisite vulgarity, revolting beauty, and difficult possibilities of work like Psychic Privates that continues to make these poignant discussions necessary, and for that, I am thankful.
An Exquisite Vulgarity
Fish in Exile, Vi Khi Nao’s debut novel, explores the depths of parental loss through the lenses of the two main characters, Ethos and Catholic. Both characters act as bookends to the often phantasmagoric journey of their emotional turmoil as they navigate the gauntlet of the loss of their two children, an extramarital affair, and even the psycho-sexual complexities of a Jocasta complex amidst the backdrop of the fragile architecture of a homemade aquarium and the constant presence of an unforgiving sea.
What unfolds is an intricate tapestry of raw emotional power charged with eroticism that manifests in surreal scenes wherein Ethos and Catholic become engines of loss, love, fear, humor, hate, and redemption. This power coupled with Nao’s intricate, defiant, introspective, and precise lyricism makes for a haunting read.
Occupying a myriad of spaces and spanning genres and mediums, Nao’s work is a multi-faceted examination of the intersecting spaces of the religious, the corporeal, the industrial, and the pastoral. Equal parts devastation and uncompromising beauty, Vi Khi Nao will undoubtedly remain a force to be reckoned with.