Sick Sonnets, by Mai Ivjfäll. Radioactive Cloud, May 2021. 28 pages. $10.00, handbound limited edition.
My immediate connection to Mai Ivjfäll’s Sick Sonnets was through the band Ceremony. In their first single (“Sick”) from their 2010 album Ronhert Park, the singer litanizes on things he is sick of, many of the complaints directed at hardcore itself. At the time of Ronhert Park’s release, the band were hardcore darlings, and the album really felt like a hardcore album for people who were sick of hardcore. It struck a profound chord with me at the time because the album is so damn sick, but also because I too was sick of hardcore in 2010.
Unlike Ceremony’s song, Ifvijial’s Sick Sonnets is not about being sick of sonnets or poetry as the book’s first two lines make apparent—“the canticle of my cunt / or the bees are dying so suddenly so suddenly.” Rather, the titular sickness is a sickness of place, the Earth, the body, shopping malls and Instagram, to name a few sites of infection. The book is a crown of seven sonnets, each broken up over multiple, sparse pages. Like a good hardcore album, readers can experience it in twenty to thirty minutes. The relationship between brevity and attitude and intensity is what makes this chapbook work so memorable. Almost any line can be isolated and reader’s would be left with something evocative and playful. One of the many lines that stuck with me is “what is a word for chronic pain that doesn’t sound mallcore.” Ivjfäll also wrote the line that made me laugh the hardest I’ve ever laughed reading poetry, bar none. I won’t spoil it for you, but it involves a rock band known mostly from the late-90s to mid-aughts whose name is taken from a demon.
Just like Ronhert Park, I read this book at a time when poetry writ large was leaving me cold, and it really felt like the witty snarl I needed to shake away the poetry cob webs.
There are still some copies left.
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Ryan Bollenbach is a writer and musician living in Houston, Texas. He formerly served as Poetry Editor for Black Warrior Review in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He currently reads for Gulf Coast and Heavy Feather Review. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Tarpaulin Sky, Sink Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Snail Trail Press, and elsewhere. To contact, reach out on Twitter @SilentAsIAm or visit his website his website.