Author: Ron J Suresha (ed)
Price: $8.99 (ebook)
Publisher: Bear Bones Books
Point of Sale: AmazonReviewed by: Emily Veinglory
The concept of the “bear”--the hairy fleshy man especially as desired within the queer subculture of the same name—contains much that could inspire a poet. This collection exploits that potential ably. Not every book can open my eyes to the erotic possibilities of hobbits. Not to mention jocks, cowboys, furries, statues, warriors, and gods (especially the ancient Greek variety). There are all kinds of aesthetics and all kinds of messages about things like sex, love, beauty, getting old and--of course--daddies (literal and metaphorical). I did miss poems mining some of the more arcane possibilities of shape shifting in other cultures (pig, bear, wolf, salmon even) and the actual habits of the real bears—but overall this is a very diverse anthology. There are a lot of interesting insections in these works that mash contrasts together like sexy and seedy or like exquisite technique is dressed up in “aw shucks” crass and macho language.
High points for me were points that stray a little from the central tropes of the theme or found a new angle on it (there being only so many references to beers, beard burn, caves, and flannel shirts that one can take). Like Alfred C Corn’s “Young Soldier” (”out from an overhang of black eyebrows / the left one playing the rôle of circumflex”), Ed Madden’s “Each arrow is a story. Each wound is a mouth,” and Cornelius’s “Marriot Hotel Bar” in its entirety which reminds me of the poetry of MS Merwin although the similarity is not a literal one. And the uneasy simplicity of Dan Stone’s “Rough” is certainly memorable.
On the down side, the tone waivers between classically poetic and wry through a kind of camp that does not always seem deliberate. It can be a fine line between ardent archetype and unintentional parody. And if you are going to riff on a poem by Marlowe, I really don’t think you should change the meter. And there were some grammatical and editing choices whose purpose (or error) I debated. Erratic capitalization that seem to lack symbolic purpose and spellings like “OK” and “t-shirt”. I suppose one should not question these things, but I do when they don’t seem to have stylistic purpose. There were also a few poems I considered completed clunkers from beginning to end. Let’s just say it takes a lot to sell me on rhyming couplets even when used ironically.
Overall this is a various and interesting collection but perhaps a tad overlong because it is hard for a collection of so many parts to have an overall identity. However given the number of poems included the average quality is impressively high and undoubtedly the equal of any University-Press-blessed volume. This is an anthology that takes the reader to some interesting places whether your are already a fan or just "bear curious".