back to REviews
Review by Alan Gold

SurVision Books
ISBN: 978-1912963102

Available from Amazon

Let's get the big question out of the way: should you read these poems? Yes! This collection is very enjoyable, amusing at least, at times knee-slapping funny, remarkable throughout. The title isn't quite right. The organics, and some inorganics behaving like organics, aren't amorphous. They're not amoebas or dream-figure camouflage artists whose appearance is unstable. They have definite form, shape, and life that just happen not to be the form, shape, and life we would rationally expect of them. Maybe Metamorphic Organics would have fit better. Some pieces are cousins to Ovid's Metamorphoses, where people melt or stiffen into trees, birds, streams, constellations that characterize their human identities, especially their last moments in those identities. Many others feature personifying animals and body parts that act uncharacteristically -- gut worm farmers, digestive system organ celebrities, an Eddic toenail, a gangster Robin with a switchblade -- or humans using their body parts absurdly: a guy cuts off his fingers so their rings can "dangle free in the air," a man knocks out his teeth and replaces them with more durable horses hooves. In nearly all cases, Hayes seems after no more than a simile, perhaps a nod to his wit and wittiness. None seems to be a "serious" work whose esoteric, profound meaning could be extracted only through toilsome analysis. Some are just a hairsbreadth north of Daffy Duck as Duck Tracy in Dreamland; I take that to be a good thing.

These poems have many virtues. Most are well- to very-well-written. They wear their considerable
learning lightly. None is even momentarily dull. There are no obvious missteps. I'm not convinced that the whole series adds up to something besides a chain of -- sometimes related -- squibs, like variations on a theme, sometimes by sound: "[A Man Feels…]" gives us the guy who knocks out his teeth and replaces them with hooves, while "Homunculi (1)," two poems down, shows us a guy cutting his finger on a tooth while brushing, and "[Horses Gallop…], in which wild horses stampede down a woman's throat, " is followed by "The Wheel," whose carousel horses tear themselves free of the poles that impale them. But I can't think what these echoes add up to. They seem unrelated improvisations: a poem with the word horse or tooth inspires other poems about horses or teeth; one poem doesn't explain or illuminate another. I'm not saying the series would be better if it included only easily identifiable, explicable, clearly related themes throughout. There's no reason it has to add up.

Is it enough to say that everything reminds us of something else, that everything is something else when we look at it closely, that everything is becoming, that nothing is settled? Does that teach us anything? Does that make any of the poems better? Does it make a series more worthwhile, more rewarding?

Not every poem is an unqualified winner but several are. A case in point is the first poem, "Tale West": it's lively and appealing. Unfortunately, though, it's the first poem out of the gate, and its weakness as a thought-out idea might discourage a casual reader from reading on. The "character" is the typo, a happy-go-lucky, untethered, unsquare hobo, immune to social conventions and taboos. That in itself is something of a cheat: do real-life hobos live life to the fullest or just do what they can
to live another day? If we compared typos to the homeless, would the lighthearted tone feel appropriate? More important, Hayes, maybe purposely, misses an important feature of typos, one that relates better to the whole series: the poems that follow it aren't "carefree," and I find no obvious typos, liberating or otherwise. The poems are mostly surreal, often nightmarish, queasily absurdist. Why hasn't Hayes considered the darker side of typos, the Freudian slip? "Tale West" would then be a fit introduction to the rest.

That's a case of second-guessing, though: the poem is fine as it is. I wish it were as strong as the final poem in the series, "If It Quivers," which does tie in themes we've encountered before:

If it quivers on the desk in the studio in the morning light, filtered through gray film
     on the window,
If it quivers in the gray amniotic sack laced with red veins and blue arteries,
If it quivers, anticipating your touch, you know it was never truly yours.