“Not Human Enough for the Census” Erik Fuhrer (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press) – book review

Erik Fuhrer not human enough for the census book cover“Not Human Enough for the Census” is a collection of poems alongside images by Kimberly Androlowicz. Most of the images are created with digitally manipulated encaustic paintings and some of the poems share their titles. The collection’s title comes from the first poem, “[the creature of dark habits]” (all titles are parenthesised, as if they were an afterthought or a convenient filename rather than a means of identifying a poem),

“                                                             I was born I was born I was borne
.                                                              a child who is a finger
.                                                              whose body is a hangnail
.                                                              who knows at least 3 math problems
.                                                              right out of the womb
.                                                              the most important being
.                                                              anything times 0 is 0
.                                                              and therefore he bites his hangnail
.                                                              down to the cuticle
.                                                              so people call him fleshboy
.                                                              they call him cute little icicle
.                                                                              they call him if they need money
.                                                                                                         blow
.                                                                                                         cigarettes
.                                                                                                         a good time
.                                                                                                         a slice of ham
.                                                                                                         another excuse
.                                                                                                         for not being
.                                                                                                         quite human
.                                                                                                         enough
.                                                                                                         for the
.                                                                                                         census”

The first part of the poem starts on the left-hand margin and sprawls across to the right. The words feel fragmentary, the generous inclusion of space implies hesitancy of thought and that thoughts are being gathered but haven’t necessarily cohered into a narrative. The play on “born” and “borne” indicates both arrival and burden, a child who is an inconvenience and used rather than nurtured. The unidentified “they”, through their use and abuse of the boy, reduce their own humanity, not the boy’s, although, from their perspective, it’s the boy who is dehumanised and made to serve.

The prose poem, “[nightmare chorus]” starts with the interesting premise that the nightmare becomes its own character and almost a parasite to the dreamer,

“there is a nightmare growing inside you and sometimes you wake to the sound of a rat gnawing
at the glass of your nightmare and your nightmare is wearing a papier-mâché mask of your
nightmare who is also there cooing like a dove nightmare with a flask nightmare whose last
name is nightmare and who lives down the block from your lung capacity which is not enough to
hold your screams when you knock on every door nightmare”

The lack of punctuation and short vowels give the poem a quality of breathlessness and urgency. However, the poem rushes to a punchline and doesn’t develop its initial premise.

Similarly, “[all filiation is imaginary]” starts, “confession:           my dog is not my son/ he is too good looking” which feels like a random thought to spark ideas, continues,

“all filiation is imaginary:
.                   I have no
.                                                  father
.                                                                 not becoming
.                                                                                                  father
.                   becoming fish
.                               gilled heart
.                               gilded tongue
.                               a spider RANSACKING
.                    web
.                     my throat
.                                                            tick suck spatter”

A fatherless son, who has had to imagine who is father might be/might have been, may well reject the notion of becoming a parent. But it’s some jump from rejecting parenthood to a “gilled heart”, presumably something that attracts movement, that people slip through because the son can’t settle having never been shown what a relationship looks like to a spider.

More successful is “[8 millimeter body]”

“doesn’t understand that NRA stands for
.                                          never
.                                                       returning
.                                                                     again
after an open             gunshot            wound
.                                           to the head
.                                           or the heart
.                                           or the parts of the body
.                                           where flesh yields to
.                                           bone yields to the sky”

Re-defining the acronym is appropriate to the poem and the imagery supports the idea.

“[the treebutchers]” takes an idea,

“the treebutchers made 20 hits a day

their hands calloused
liked the bark             they eat twigs
.                                                                   consuming their kills

Cannibalism is a thin red line
.                                                       especially when
.                                                       the treebutchers began to sprout
.                                                        leaves from their eyes”

The poem goes on but it feels as if justice has been served.

Ekphrastic poems should be able to stand alone on their own merit. The artwork may add an extra dimension or layers to the poem. Here the poems achieve that. Kimberly Androlowicz’s artwork is a bonus and the abstract nature of the artworks is matched in the abstract appearance of the poems. They leave space for a reader’s imagination to feed the gaps and create the idea of thoughts being gathered, an image being processed and thought around. They create an impression for the reader to complete.

“Not Human Enough for the Census” is available here: https://www.erik-fuhrer.com/not-human-enough-for-the-census.

Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.

The Significance of a Dress banner displayed at launch


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