To enter Kristin Bock’s world is to fall off a precipice, get sucked into a black hole of the weird, and then come out the other side even weirder.
She transforms a world you know into one so surreal, it flies past you only to reverse and collide with the back of your head, implanting itself in your medulla and taking over your senses.
To say she is inventive is an understatement. The world seems as if she has chopped it up into tiny pieces with a kitchen knife and rearranged it so that its metallic core becomes the world’s surface and the populace once on the outside has been placed inside its own circle of hell. The Russian surrealists of the Stalinist 20s, 30s and 40s would have had a ball with her use of words and ideas.
Some of her poems are organic and tell of a creation myth in a disturbing evolutionary way as in “How Rabbits Finally Took Over the World”:
Herds of one-eyed livers slithered over hill and dale until the species that resembled a crab (but was really a hand with a mouth in its palm) gobbled up all the one-eyed livers. It went on like this for millions of years, hybrid devouring hybrid.
The end of this creation myth deals with babies’ ears that turn into dahlias after they are eaten by rabbits that “grew large as humans, were born whole and forever tender.”
When one thinks about the evolution story of the planet, there are parallels in her poem with species that lived for millennia, only to reach a dead end, with other species springing up out of their failure to compete.
In the poem actually titled “Creation Myth” she discusses monsters. In fact, the theme of monsters is quite prevalent throughout the book. Here is a recipe for making them:
Start with the skeleton; add ligaments, tendons, and long muscles of the body. Think origin and insertion. Pound out the skin until you see through it. Laugh a nervous laugh. Add … a whisper of gunpowder, a box of static, a bucket of mud. Then find the ribbon within the figure, the gesture at its center and pull.
The bucket of mud is a reference to the Golem, the creature of Hebrew myth, and the pulling of the ribbon at its center is the activation of the soul in the creature.
There are comments on a nation crazed with weapons. Titled “Everything Coming Up Rifles,” the poem evokes what it is like to live in a country obsessed with guns:
Rifles are pushing up in the garden … The orchard is clacking with rifles … Sidewalks are cobbled with rifles … Our lost lovers are rifles … Our arms are rifles. The trees are enormous rifles no one can wrap their rifles around.
The juxtaposition, the montage—there is cinema here in her images—a world, a universe. Sometimes it comes out as science fiction; this from “The Looking-Glass Planet,” a type of journal at the end of the book: “Day 80: A tiny golden contraption on my knee. Outside, the rain turns septic in battlefield clouds. Inside the contraption, a soft pink gear pulsates …”
And, there is metamorphosis. In some of Bock’s poems, objects and people are always turning into something that keeps us enthralled if not reading out of the corner of our eye; some images are that disturbing. The author can change images almost like magic right before our eyes. There is sometimes no understanding, no deeper meaning. We are taken in by the flow of words and visceral images as in the start of the nightmarish poem “Get Back”:
At the party, my mother curls into a set of ovaries and blue veined tubes. A shiny dark bag blooms from her mouth and turns her inside out. Everyone is laughing. I pick her up and carry her upstairs. She is slippery and making a sound like static.
It doesn’t stop there, and she seems to use her parents as a vehicle for mutation and redemption as in the poem “B-Movie”:
A scientist, played by my father, accidentally drops a maddening fluid onto a plate of Wonder Bread. The food begins to quiver and grows …. It resembles a huge lump of liver and immediately eats my father and half of me.… I notice I’ve grown an amorphous, bloody bottom-half and a voracious hunger … Finally, I reach the outer edge of town … where the heroine, played by my mother, kills me …
In the short journal at the end of the book, she oddly mentions (nothing new for the author) a machine whose gender is female: “Day 53: What if she is the machine that programmed this world and the machine that unplugs this world, leaves me a husk in coarse grass, dreaming of a harp adrift on a raft.”
In my opinion, this image as one of the most important in Bock’s book. It imbues the incredible power of both creation and destruction in the world she has devised. But the myth she creates is of a mechanistic world. One that can be ended by pulling a wire out of a socket, done by an emotionally detached machine. She’s implying that the world she has created, and the inventiveness that she used, can ultimately (and simply) be erased by that one action. And yet, even though she is left “a husk,” she provides hope that she, and by extension we, will continue.
Glass Bikini, by Kristin Bock. North Adams, Massachusetts: Tupelo Press, December 2021. $18.95, paper.
Michael Kleiza was born in Montreal, and now lives in Guelph, Ontario, with the artist Susan Kelly. His poems have been published in various anthologies and magazines. His poem “Remembrance Song” was chosen as a finalist for the William Collins Canadian Poetry Prize presented by Descant magazine. He has read his poetry at many venues, including The Fringe of the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival, the Hillside Festival, and the Art Bar in Toronto. He is an alumnus of the Wired Writing program at the Banff Centre for Creativity and Innovation in Alberta. His debut collection of poetry, A Poet on the Moon, was published by Vocamus Press in 2015, and he is the editor of the annual Rhapsody Anthology out of Guelph. His new found passion is writing reviews of poetry books.