What begins as transgressive, sci-fi influenced writing morphs into something even better in the second half of this haunting volume of futuristic poetry that, despite its zany linguicism, manages to exist as part of the indelible now. Certainly, the first half of the book is enjoyable; Brock’s poetics are wild, illuminative, almost running away from the reader on fantastical tangents before lasering into precision reflections on modern times such as the ending lines of the poem “The Dancer is Offered Perfect Health for Everything Else” where he says, “The grizzly lurks at the river, so / the salmon jumps into its gentle teeth.” But it is the latter half of this collection where his true talent shows.
The collection’s metronome is an intoxicating lava flow, both beautiful and dangerous. For all its extraplanetary language it is also refreshingly gritty, such as when Brock says about the character in one poem, “He only hears his own voice in his own head in his own GPS location.” How many of us fall into that trap on a daily basis? Or the equally prescient, jarring lines, “I will die of starvation looking / at a Made in Switzerland tag.” Whether or not he means the lines I’ve quoted to be anti-capitalist, the sentiment isn’t far off. I am reminded of my own lean toward consumerism, convicted by his poetry as capably as any impassioned pulpit might do. Later, he says, “I’ve wasted / so much beauty. Focus, man.” I am convicted again, and energized into self-reflection.
Poetry, at its finest, is not an easy assimilation of terms. Brock, to his credit, does not let the reader off easily, especially as he wends into this collection’s final act, “Prog II: Ten-Headed Alien”. This is where the collection comes into its own and shines as it takes the reader through all ten heads of this alien, using a nomenclature that both distorts its subject while bringing it to the fore in a way that becomes sensible in reticence of Brock’s originality.
These ten heads show themselves to be deeply entwined in our sociocultural problems, which, unlike much sci-fi poetry or fiction generally, does not require strenuous allegory to receive relevance. In “Head Six (War)” he takes on our present militarism: “They won’t condemn / the wars: we’re drawn to them, / so we retell the great battles, sneaking / hints from war poems and Hollywood.” Later, after putting the tenth head to rest, his poem “The Ruins (23:04)” begins by saying “History is a victor’s party.”
The poetry craftily undergoes a dissolution of terms and character in the latter pages until the journey grows into its inevitable ending, an admittance of the voice behind the words and a warning to a complacent populace: “I’d evolve in this life. I was wrong, so it ends.”
Ten-Headed Alien by David James Brock is published by Wolsak & Wynn.