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May 19

Blot Lit Reviews: Blasphemer by Bill Yarrow

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Blasphemer by Bill Yarrow
Lit Fest Press, 2015
ISBN: 1943170010
Reviewed by Julie Demoff-Larson

On the back of Bill Yarrow’s second poetry collection, Bud Smith states that “Blasphemer doesn’t fuck around.” And it doesn’t. Blasphemer is everything a worshipper of contemporary poetry is looking for and deserves a critical in-depth analysis. However, word count and a reader’s attention span limit me. Thought provoking, experimental at times with form and theme, complimented with a fair amount of humor and transformative language that cuts out all the bull. Yarrow is a genius at exploring, and ultimately splintering, the root of our belief systems—whether religion, society, politics, family, and yes, the blessed writing community. He plays with the work of others creating new statements and welcoming the reader to seek out the originals. Blasphemer is a full length collection containing 76 poems divided into six parts, all with catchy blasphemy subtitles.

Poems in each part are connected by theme, some adding context to earlier poems or feeding on meaning that reveals a greater complexity in Yarrow’s work. In Part 1: To Blaspheme or Not to Blaspheme, Yarrow depicts an America far removed from a global community or universal understanding of god in “Holy Week.” But the poem becomes so much more when the next poem, “Ribs” is read:

“Man reached in the carcass of the Lord
and tore Satan from the rib of God.
The mountains of humility went silent,
the rain of regency dried its eyes,
and the clouds of unknowing began to know.
Snow masquerading as kindness ballooned
into bombast as the world washed its hands
of worldliness.”

“Man reached” says so much here in that this discontent and disconnect from anything that is unfamiliar—the other—is created by man. Our reality fed to us via media, government, religious sects, and so on, as we accept the “indifference, stiff as a wombat penis” And it “takes all my strength not to worship it.” Yarrow is careful not to overwhelm the reader with heavy-handed dogma and breaks up the serious side with humorous pieces such as “”Jesus, Zombie” or tongue-in-cheek “Getting Goddless” where one of my favorite stanzas offers:

  • “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.”

Yarrow’s use of lists in Blasphemer stand out among the variety of forms used including cantos, pantoum, sonnet, ghazal, lyric, and others. In “The New Blurb,” he pokes fun at blurbs that always seem to indicate that the book is outstanding. These alternatives take on publishing norms—giant and small press—is quite hilarious and leaves me with the feeling that Yarrow does not take himself or the industry too seriously.

“9. Don’t let the fact that the writing in this book is terrible dissuade you from buying it. Support independent presses!”

But Yarrow doesn’t stop there, he also tackles the Bukowski’s in “There’s No Crying in Poetry” and even his own relevance as a writer in “What the Hell Am I Doing?”

Many poems throughout prove Yarrow’s knack for narrative and are among some of my favorite reads. “Etta Kapusta” remembers a love affair intertwined with an admiration for poets read during that time—particularly Ferlinghetti. However, at its end the poem reads more as a tribute to the forgotten poet. The memory of, or maybe the romanticized relationship that the reader originally had with the poet’s words diminished over time and only the popular remain (aka the Ferlinghetti’s of the world). Is this the blasphemy Yarrow is pointing out? Or is it blasphemous to say:

“And now, it’s ten years after. And ten years after that. And ten plus ten years even after that. And all I have left is a shelf full of books that no one wants to read—Kesey, Paton, Kleist, Pound, Kosinski, Pavese, Kazantzakis, Pinter. But Ferlinghetti. People still read Ferlinghetti. They do. They hold on to Ferlinghetti, like he was a crucifix.”

Blasphemer takes risks and questions norms, redefining them as absurdities. Bill Yarrow’s poetry makes you think about those hush-hush topics that ignite. However, this collection is more than an anthem against everything held dear. It is about opening up the possibilities to something new, something changed. There is a lot to this collection and it is almost impossible to comment on all aspects, but know that Blasphemer is a study in poetry—complex and thoughtful, entertaining and bold.

 

An Interview with Bill Yarrow

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