Saturday, April 18, 2009

Zombies in poetry

I hope you’ll indulge my compulsive need to go back and fill in the dates that I have not posted, for future reference…

First, I’m going back to review a 2008 poetry book that I just discovered: Zombie Haiku by Ryan Mecum (How Books, 2008). Yes, you read that correctly: Zombie. Haiku. The title alone caught my eye, then I saw the gruesome cover, then I got my own copy and read it. Whoa.

First, this is clearly for YA (young adults), in my opinion. It’s for fans of zombie lore—of which there are many—who love the blood, guts, and gore. My 20-year-old son and his friends cannot get enough of this horror sub-genre, thank you director George Romero, although I have not been able to make it through an entire movie yet (I am a big scaredy cat!). The graphic poem-story and the (mock) blood-splattered pages are also quite compelling and perhaps a bit too horrifying for younger readers (or the squeamish, like me). That said, this book will be a BIG hit with teens who:
• say they don’t like to read
• say they don’t like poetry, in particular
• but love horror movies and zombies, especially

In fact, I had to buy a second copy of the book because my son took my first copy when he visited last weekend! (And that almost NEVER happens, despite my decade long quest to find reading that will tempt him.) I rest my case.

Now, for the content.

The premise is that zombies are taking over the world (since that is nearly ALWAYS the premise) and this journal has turned up. Apparently, in the beginning, a young man keeps a journal of haiku poetry celebrating his observations of nature and love. These sweet haiku quickly turn to anxious thoughts and then recount the horror that is taking place all around him. Once he is bitten and “turns” (about a third of the way through the book), the tidy, even hand-lettered poems turn into scratchy writing that scrawls unevenly across the pages—still haiku, but the zombie has taken over the poetry writing.

However, a survivor (til the end) pens final narrative thoughts in blue ink at the beginning and ending of the book, overlaying the haiku, giving us a bit of info about what is happening. (He took the journal out of the hand of the zombie’s severed arm.) OK, maybe I should alert you that even this review is not for the faint of heart!

This is really a kind of verse novel in that the haiku weaves together to tell a story. What a clever idea! And the structure of the haiku serves the story well, with its staccato rhythm, telegraphing details and moments. The visual content of the book is an amazing complement to the story-haiku. It’s small trim size (about 4 x 6) and parchment look, complete with faux smudges and string tying it up suggest a handwritten book. (Way to go, publisher How Books!) Black and white Polaroid-style snapshots of various horrible zombie moments (clearly staged, but more disturbing than goofy) appear periodically along with heaps of (ostensible) blood splatters and bodily fluids—ick. Some poems are typed on scraps and taped to the journal (although that’s never explained and I wondered how and where a zombie typed and printed poetry) along with handfuls of hair and duct tape. Are you getting the idea? The whole effect is really crazy compelling and creepy.

This is not my cup of tea. But I totally GET how it will be for lots of edgy readers and I really admire the concept and execution. I found the beginning completely absorbing and was hanging in there as the new-zombie “protagonist” turned and searched for (brain) food. But I have to say it wore thin for me. The last half of the book is just more zombies seeking more victims with the last of the normal human populations succumbing one by one (seniors in nursing homes, kids in tree houses—on and on). I really wanted SOMEONE to prevail, but I believe that is a central tenet of zombie-lore—that no one survives.

At any rate, I found black humor in the macabre haiku, as in these verses as he turns into a zombie and transitions from remembering home, to realizing home and family means food.

I remember home,
and I remember my mom

and her meaty thighs.

I can remember
good food that Mom used to make.
I bet Mom tastes good.

Walking down the streets,

I just barely remember
how to find her house.

[BTW, things don’t end well for Mom.]
Mecum, Ryan. 2008. Zombie Haiku. Cincinnati, OH: How Books, p.35.

A “zombie” photo of the author at the end of the book and a short post-zombie bio indicates this is/was Ryan Mecum’s first published work. Apparently he “was” also a Presbyterian youth pastor before becoming a zombie! (As a pastor’s wife, I find that completely hysterical!) Look for his next poetry collection due later this year: Vampire Haiku. Seriously. This guy is a genius!

Image credit:

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.


laurasalas said...

This sounds phenomenal. I love horror movies...although I also want someone to prevail. Going through your reviews this month is frustrating, Sylvia. So many cool-sounding books I'd love to look at, but some are from small or niche publishers and aren't carried by my library system or even the whole MNLINK system. Shoot.

Love Mom's meaty thighs. Euuuwwwwwww! Seriously, though, this sounds like a scream.

Sylvia Vardell said...

Yes, I know it can be hard to find some of these poetry books, particularly the international ones. But on the other hand, they're worthy of the hunt and deserve a bit of PR. So... I hope we can work together to grow the poetry marketplace ourselves!

You can find used copies of ZOMBIE HAIKU for less than $1 (plus shipping)-- so I have bought TWO copies now...