1. Review by James Robison of The Lice of Christ, published with the permission of the author.
The Lice of Christ (MadHat Press 2014) may be the most s1. Review by James Robison of The Lice of Christ, published with the permission of the author.
The Lice of Christ (MadHat Press 2014) may be the most subversive book of poems I have read. The poet seems manic, word drunk and antagonistic towards an enterprise, a contest in which he is compelled to compete. His poems behave like lit fuses, destroying themselves in a shower of brilliance as they attack themselves, their reader, the act of poetry, of the futility of verse and its petty, easily-conjured and momentary effects. Like a fuse too, the book's movement seems to drive scarily towards an explosion which will forever fragment meanings and the poets who work for them, (even Yeats isn't spared).
Often the reader feels mocked for admiring a couplet, a connection, the inspired invention involved in the making of a list (there are many lists herein, absurdist how-to instructions or maxims or aphorisms gone askew, it seems, and they can be profound or quippy) and often one is saddened by the possibilities of a poem that seems sketched, blocked-in, then besmirched or abandoned; the vandalisms committed here are inbuilt parts of the book's doubled aesthetic.
The Son of God had lice, says this poet, but read on. He belongs to the noble and merciful few who groomed the Savior, eased his suffering, picked the vermin off Christ's body. But read on. The sentiment is an analogy, possibly a hostile one, from Adolphus of Smyrna and from a volume named The Incanteron, one most readers will not know. So whatever motives we may attach to the title are (the author shrugs) not his, for good or bad.
This whirlpool of gaming, (we see the pun on Life of Christ, we recognize that some will find only blasphemy, we understand that the author is celebrating his craft and chosen art with a quote and we see too the mischief in the choice of title and its meaning and shadow meanings) informs the whole volume.
At its best, the work concentrates on doing the enormously-complicated and difficult business of making poetry and making a sequence of poems which sing, even, or especially, dark songs. At its weakest, the book works against its own purposes, is conflicted, is a manifestation of a writer so gifted he doubts that what he is up to could have much purpose.
-James Robison, The Illustrator
2. Review by Jefferson Hansen of The Lice of Christ. This review appeared in the Altered Scale blog on September 13, 2014.
Bill Yarrow's slightly blasphemous The Lice of Christ puns on the goal of all the Christian gospels, which is to present the life of Christ. But it also comes from a quotation by Adolphus of Smyrna, "I call Poet he who picks the lice off Christ." Somehow, that quotation, however startling, seems less blasphemous. And the tension between blasphemy and reverence appears and reappears throughout this book. But it's not, for me, what the book is about. It's about poetic form.
Yarrow divides it into three sections. In the first he writes poems that rely on quick and surprising juxtaposition and are held together by a seemingly innocuous detail—in the following case, food:
Janet and I had the tilapia fish tacos and talked about God
God ordered the veal cutlet and was rebuked by the vegetarian Politburo
The beer had a divine odor which attracted the wasps of mortuary remorse
The first two stanzas of this poem, "Theorizing Salsa," begin by positing someone or someones eating a specific, but also seemingly random piece of food. They both then move to a surprisingly disconnected final word, in one case "God" and the other "Politburo." The third stanza connects beer to remorse. We are left wondering about the connection between God and tacos, Politburo and the act of rebuking, and beer and "mortuary remorse." But that's not what is most essentially happening here, I think. Yarrow has set up three stanza that rely on a seemingly random, but somehow fitting, final word or two.
This poem says nothing about life. Instead, it enacts randomness. Its form stuns and surprises, three times, and strikes out in a fine way.
In the second section Yarrow precedes each line with a bullet point. These poems tend to be longer than those in the first section, and they do say things. In fact, they read like a string of related aphorisms:
• God is man squared. That is to say, God is man raised to a higher power. • Man is the root, the square root, of God. • We believe in the ideal (truth, wisdom, justice, honor, integrity, selflessness, sacrifice, compassion, goodness) and God is the name we give to that ideal. • What else is God but a heuristic for what we want to do with our lives?
Later in the same poem, Yarrow addresses jealousy, but then returns to his concern with God:
• Jealousy is a cocktail made of equal parts insecurity and possession. • Before we can be jealous, we must make our mate our thing. • Our God is a jealous God. What an unfortunate idea.
These poems work by stringing together aphorisms through the repetition of certain words or ideas. They spin around several axes—in this case God, Agnosticism, Jealousy, Vengeance, Prayer, Religion in general, the Devil, Genetics, even Vegetables. One axis sticks around for the whole poem: God. The others appear for a section, then disappear. It is as if the word "God" has a series of dance partners, until the very end—when he drops out, and the axis becomes the Devil.
Here again, the poem is about the form. We are left, yes, to ponder Yarrow's statements about God. But it seems to me the poem is more about the act of juxtaposition, the way statements, words, and ideas can be strung together, like popcorn dyed multiple colors and strung up, and the string is God.
In the third section, Yarrow usually tells stories. But these stories have a way of turning on themselves, in becoming not-stories. Most telling is "This Is Not a Poem," which concerns the story of a preacher's dog tracking motor oil in a hotel lobby and the journalist who was going to win the Pulitzer for reporting on it. In the end, however, we learn that none of this did, or can happen. "No preacher. No dog. No town. ... No [reporter]. Just the viral thought of him."
These knot-stories almost always contained a note of absurdity. Again, they are about the form. The form of narrative. What we choose and choose not to tell. How any narrative, even a true one, runs into and rubs up against a type of fiction.
It doesn't matter, so much, what Yarrow says, even when he is blaspheming. It matters what he does.