EILEEN TABIOS Engages
Bombyonder by Reb Livingston
(Bitter Cherry Books, Atlanta, GA, 2014)
I kept thinking of chapter parataxis as I read through Bombyonder. That, alone, would make me argue this is a poetry book versus novel. Except that the book transparently offers a narrative frame—e.g., its first paragraph:
“Some kind of war happened at one time or another and continued for quite some time to come. There had to be an end to it, sometime, but when that time would be I couldn’t say. What I could say was that historians from another time, along with the archivists, archaeologists and scuba divers from that same time discovered some kind of bomb, one of the kinds of bombs invented by my father, a bomb he slowly worked on for most of his existence to ensure he maintained an existence after he was long gone. Once this discovery was made, my life was never recorded the same.”
I want to say: the above excerpt (like the rest of the book) strikes me as the kind of stuff that can be written by someone who doesn’t suffer fools well. But that’s just me having fun. What I should note is that my focus in genre stems from hearing stuff about the work's genre—what is it?—prior to its release and before I came to read it. One of the blurbers, Lindsay Hill, even says it is “its own genre.” But actually, I easily recognize a genre for this book. It’s the howl.
I sense the howl because one of the book’s biggest strengths is voice (yep, voice the old-fashioned way). The strength of the voice is not that it’s a howl but that it stays strong and consistent from beginning to end—indeed, it’s not just consistent but ratchets up in intensity as one goes deeper into the book. The author was “on”—in that space of the author being the pen rather than the one wielding the pen for words that alchemized their own urgency for existence—as she wrote out this project—but she was on for an entire 343 pages and that’s impressive.
Howl. Wilderness. More actually, wild.
I’ve said elsewhere I think the human race is manifesting suicide. This isn’t to say there’ll be a total wipe-out of existence. But existence as we know it is doomed and there will be a wipe-out and Bombyonder can be an example of the aftermath.
As aftermath, the immediate aftermath. There is a future beyond—in the yonder of—Bombyonder’s particular prediction. What Bombyonder says about it is the only thing one can say honestly (unless one wants to push one’s self forward as a prophet, seer, the Pope et al and fortunately Reb Livingston shows no desire for such): the future’s eyes are bloodshot.
Livingston, as author, earns the adjective “visionary” by citing the “spirals of time” related to what happens as humanity rejiggers itself into the post of the current path which is not sustainable. Visionary in that the way forward is not just straight but goes back and forth: memory (not to be confused with past), is also raw material. The future is the future, though, precisely because it’s unknown. So I call Bombyonder honest for not pretending to predict anything besides that its eyes are bloodshot.
Another critic could do marvels with reviewing this book by throwing all the European philosophers at it. I won’t go there—I will just say that I like the book a lot for its unique depiction of what humans have called “hell” while still offering the possibility for redemption. In this sense, the book is both (1) experimental, and (2) not “experimental” but rather makes old-fashioned fresh.
Maybe I was wrong in the first paragraph. Because the prior paragraph shows I’m reading the book as a novel—as a story—after all. I don’t think I’m revealing a spoiler to say that Oedipus arises in the book’s last chapter. As the canon for human knowledge, Wikipedia, notes:
“Oedipus represents … the flawed nature of humanity and an individual's role in the course of destiny in a harsh universe.”
Or maybe I wasn’t wrong in the first paragraph. Because Bombyonder, as story, is also about something else besides its narrative. Which is to say, ultimately it’s up to you what this book is and why not?! Oedipus rises again, albeit more muscled by experience, to remind us all that we all have agency in defining life post bomb (with “bomb” here not just a bomb but a metaphor for all sorts of destruction). So let’s not close those bloodshot eyes.
Bombyonder—whatever its genre is, it’s a book that had to be written and we’re fortunate it was written by a poet attuned to the many marvelous possibilities of language. Let me end with this excerpt from a chapter entitled “Introduction to Terror”—whose carefully crafted sentences show, among other things, how philosophy need not trump the rhythm of words:
We invented forgetting millions ago because we thought it was possible, more attainable than flying, turning invisible or forgiving the ones who wronged us. At least we didn’t go so far as to pretend we could heal. At least we should be credited with that.
Forgetting was not disappearing, it was burial and after enough time passed what was buried again began to chemically break down, parts disintegrated, what was buried changed, sometimes melding with its surroundings, sometimes poisoning. Sometimes something new would sprout up from it and that could very well be anything but it was always unexpected. The more we buried, the more our forgetting accumulated, the deeper it went, millions of years deep, perhaps more, we don’t know how many layers it goes. If we did, we forgot. What we know now is that no matter how decayed, there are always remnants and the remnants are never just remnants—they’re the Styrofoam of the soul.
Eileen Tabios reveals something about herself in ARDUITY'S interview about what's hard about her poetry. Her just-released poetry collection, SUN STIGMATA (Sculpture Poems), received a review by Amazon Hall of Famer reviewer Grady Harp. Due out in 2015 will be her second "Collected Poems" project; while her first THE THORN ROSARY was focused on the prose poem form, her forthcoming INVEN(S)TORY will focus on the list or catalog poem form. More information at http://eileenrtabios.com