Reviews

Cutting Eyes from Ghosts:

Chapbook connoisseurs and those who like lyrical, atmospheric poems should appreciate Cutting Eyes from Ghosts by Ariana D. Den Bleyker, a new chapbook from Blood Pudding Press. Both the poems themselves and the physical chapbook are deliciously spooky; contents and packaging mirror each other perfectly. Cutting Eyes from Ghosts is a work of art and highly collectible.

In Cutting Eyes from Ghosts, Ariana D. Den Bleyker creates a haunted atmosphere by delicately balancing elements of the morbid, the strange beauty of the dead and their familiars, and the bittersweet joy of being alive despite these other elements.

Den Bleyker aims straight for our hearts in her poems and finds the grave hidden there, examining it with morbid fascination. She writes: “[S]tare into the wrecked blue death” (“You Sleep & in the Darkness Death Growls”). In “Weaving Silk and Skin, We Sing of Our Thirst,” it’s raining outside, but “[i]nside: the room suddenly rich; the dark talks to the dead.” Did you know that “[i]f we’re quiet & listen, we can hear the dead” (“To Live in the Body Like a Room”)? We believe the speaker.

The dead are an obsession in Cutting Eyes from Ghosts. The speaker says, “Somewhere the dead are waiting— / violins in the vast blackness between stars” (“Beyond Skin, a Room to Feel Alone”). In the same poem, Den Bleyker compares the dead to “birds in our bellies” and advises the reader to “[h]ide & gnaw yourself.” Dealing with the dead, her advice is to “[c]lean the dirt & hide the smell” (“To Live in the Body like a Room”).

Although this is a chapbook obsessed with death and black skies, we end up feeling uplifted by Cutting Eyes from Ghosts. Den Bleyker’s poetry treats the human condition with sympathy and kindness: “Our bodies climb, move, slant downward, / lost beneath stars expanding outward…” (“Driving from the Dark”). “[S]uddenly you are Peter Pan: / Touch me; we can fly” (“Below Black Skies, Heavy Clouds Follow as Though with Legs”). The speaker in “We Come Back Brighter & Louder” advises, “Fold in your wings. / Hold hands a little longer.”

For Den Bleyker, we are fragile, mortal creatures one step away from death and decay. Like in Margaret Atwood’s short story “Happy Endings” where the narrator insists there is only one legitimate ending to any story, i.e., “John and Mary die. John and Mary die. John and Mary die,” Den Bleyker, too, insists on our human mortality, cautioning, “We’ve forgotten how to die. / Bodies breathe through bones—their sounds, voices breaking. // (Air first to come, last to go)…”

Overall, the poems in Cutting Eyes from Ghosts are intensely lyrical, combining haunting moods, brilliant metaphors, and striking imagery. These poems stand up to multiple reads. They beg to be savored.

The physical chapbook Cutting Eyes from Ghosts published by Blood Pudding Press is a work of art that has to be experienced to be properly appreciated. Handmade, it’s special for its cover art, paper, and feathers. The cover art, a modified version of Wings by Elle Couerblanc, uses colors of brown, black, and gray to depict a young human woman from the rear; from her mid-back protrudes a pair of wings—leaf-like brown with black borders—resembling insect wings. Like the poems in Cutting Eyes from Ghosts, the woman is strangely beautiful, capturing the mood of the book and complementing the poems. Blood Pudding Press printed the chapbook Cutting Eyes from Ghosts using heavy-weight cream-with-a-hint-of-orange marbled paper. It is a pleasure to look at and feel the parchment-like pages. The chapbook is of the fold-over type, but instead of using staples, Blood Pudding Press uses rope-like, fluffy, black faux feathers—so apropos. Two feathery ropes trail from the chapbook’s spine like miniature black boas worn at an old-fashioned funeral.

The chapbook Cutting Eyes from Ghosts by Ariana D. Den Bleyker from Blood Pudding Press is a one-of-a-kind gem. As Den Bleyker writes in “Echoes Telling Truths We Take for Sadness,” “The stars shiver in the distance. // Watch the flowers grow fat & climb them. / This is poetry—.” Yes, this is poetry.

~Eileen Murphy

In her recently released chapbook, Cutting Eyes from Ghosts (Blood Pudding Press, 2017), Ariana Den Bleyker narratively portrays the world from the vantage point of the newly-minted ghost. One reading of the chapbook’s title is that it refers to the eye slats in the winding cloth used to wrap corpses upon burial. This historical fact has a present-day legacy, i.e., the familiar representation of ghosts as beings in sheets, diaphanous, transparent, and floating in air (devoid of material body and personality). Den Bleyker’s ghosts, in this collection of poetry, are beings that cease to exist as individuals in the human sense of the term, but are still in process of transitioning to the realm of the immaterial. And that transition is rocky: ghosts have a tendency to revisit places in the world they once knew. In Den Bleyker’s view, the most intimate place a ghost knew before it crossed over was the body it once inhabited. That body, like any human body, is subject to decay, distintegration, and destruction. In “To Live in the Body like a Room’, the speaker relates: If we’re quiet & listen, we can hear the dead who’ve died hungry breathe. Their bodies grow deep … hands speaking, bones breaking, grips slackening. The silence, a home; body, a room … Den Bleyker uses visceral language and artfully employs the second person voice (you) to amplify the macabre imagery in her poems. The use of “I” in these poems simply won’t do: the distance engendered by separating the speaker and reader would lessen the experience and impact of these poems. Bodily disintegration, decay, brokenness, and darkness are predominant images in this “new” world the ghosts find themselves in — although one may argue that this world has been (and is) here all along, that there is nothing new about it at all. Interestingly, the ghosts in these poems share some anxieties in common with living human beings: desire, hunger, pain, cessation of breathing, and the brokenness that is reflected in broken, decomposing bodies (the disappearing home). Hunger and desire — two forms of pain — appear in several of the poems. In “We Come Back Brighter and Louder”, the speaker tells: We curl wind in our hands, gathering ourselves, plough deep, rock beneath our ribs, uncovering ghosts, bones bleached & hungry for something new; … Another reading would conclude that the poems are not about ghosts — or at least, not about that particular point on the (linear) human timeline. Instead, Den Bleyker’s poems are about the fears of the extant living: decay, dismemberment, death, pain, desire, hunger, and any insatiable longing that cannot be neatly resolved, put away, or otherwise managed. As stated simply in “Echoes Telling Truths We Take for Sadness”, “There are graves in each of us. Go ask the dead.” While other poets have portrayed decomposition and loss by projecting imagery on to a larger landscape (e.g. Slowly, Slowly, Horses by Julianne Buchsbaum comes to mind), the strength and power of Den Bleyker’s poems stem from shifting the locus from external to internal: the landscape of the individual human body and all a person experiences within that body. Although there are some places in the collection where more concise word choice could have been used for greater effect, overall Den Bleyker is successful in creating a dystopian world which resonates strongly with the reader. But even though dark, there are glints of beauty accompanying pain. (And isn’t seeking out beauty a penultimate human trait?) In “Weaving Silk and Skin, We Sing of Our Thirst”, the speaker concludes: Outside: a rainbow against the darkest sky Color living beyond each severed end. In her stark lyricism, Den Bleyker’s inversion of familiar images to unveil darker truths about beauty and existence makes Cutting Eyes from Ghosts an interesting (if not always an easy) read.

~Mary Riley


The Peace of Wild Things:

Dappled Sunshine in the Forest

These days of summer fading into autumn mark the perfect moment for readers to enjoy Ariana D. Den Bleyker’s chapbook The Peace of Wild Things (Porkbelly Press, 2015). These, natural, purposive poems feel as if Den Bleyker has briefly emerged from years living in a forest, to whisper to us about the subtle violence of nature, crafting an ethereal environmental exchange between a woman and deer, swans—even the wind—that will make eager readers out of many.

In “The Future is an Animal,” Den Bleyker’s speaker dreams of transforming into a wolf. The resulting epiphany at the end of the poem that is most unsettling:

“My legs push, muscles scream against my own

shifting imprints, stirring layers of ankle, flank,

shoulder bones, knuckles, each organ a world-

without, hovering above obliteration. My lips draw

sustenance  from viscera, glean from the silence…

and suddenly, I’m willing to be eaten.”

Along with becoming a new animal form, the predator wolf also gives birth to “steam and maggots,” her body becoming a savage thing from storybooks. But the wolf also gives birth to butterflies: what is savage lives in balance with the delicate, is vulnerable in its willingness to be consumed. It is this struggle between savage and beauty that haunts the lines of all of these poems.

The touch of death—literally—is ever-present in this collection: dead deer in the forest, dark imagery surrounding a swan, and hunting wild boars. We can never touch these symbols of exquisite wildness while they are living; they are wily, and their survival depends on quick, evasive motion. We come across them quietly, by accident. Bodies in the woods give us pause and create awe.  In the poem “Something Breathed on a Dead Deer and the Hair Inside Its Ears Waved at Your,” Den Bleyker tries to get close, captures a feeling of longing in writing about the last moments of the deer, mapping its steps:

“                                               From

the simple order of the tracks you knew,

without looking, what place in the wild

night the animals came from the through

which of our windows they have gazed

into…”

We feed these creatures, place them near our homes, track them, touch them in our mind’s eye as they breathe their last breath. Like them, we humans have one foot in the grave and one poised to flee. Like the quickness of death, the animal faces change in just seconds from living to dead, reminding us of the fragility of life at any given second. This change is underscored by Den Bleyker asking us directly, “What do you recognize?” a question to which she offers a possible answer in “What We Learn From Skies,” stating:

“Sometimes we want birds to just be birds,

the sky to remain intact,

all the right places beautiful and untouched.”

And yet sometimes even the birds in this book represent dark, transformative forces; the crow itself is a shapeshifter that changes by the minute. Is it a body, or just a group of falling feathers? From the poem “Hard Winter:”

“The crow…

hovers as the deer lays down

her bones, soft bellied on the edge

of stone, hooves etched across

the moss, fetal…all limbs

drawn beneath her throat,

breath refusing to come back,

time locking her jaw…we dream

practice our own deaths, remind

ourselves all flesh is grass.”

The crow, the deer, the humans: we all return to the earth but we also return inward to reflect. We hide indoors and huddle against each other for warmth on short winter days, taking comfort in the “caves of our own bodies.” The peace of wild things, as Den Bleyker seems to suggest later in the book, may be death; yet these poems are respectful and curious, creating an awe in the reader as we witness these beasts passing away. Den Bleyker sees, and brings to the page, the quiet peace that we might all hope for someday for ourselves—for, after all, our own bodies, our own shells, also provide but temporary homes for our perhaps–wild spirits.

~Jennifer MacBain-Stephens


Dark Water:

Den Bleyker’s novella marks my own descent into the unfamiliar waters of noir fiction. Though I don’t usually buy this genre, I found myself caught up in the story and read the entire novella in a single sitting. The plot is fast-paced, seductively strange, and full of expected twists that kept me guessing until the last chapter. The characters are wonderfully unredeemable and the writing style is gorgeous without ever compromising the depraved mood that permeates this complex tale. Highly recommended.

~Lori Mamothe

DARK WATER is a novella that will appeal to those readers who like their crime fiction smothered in darkness and submerged in the deep blackness of the human maddened mind. The plot comprises murder, lust, suicidal thoughts, and a killer spirit that can’t be tamed – if anything it consumes the characters in their entirety, making for one constant act of unbridled violence.

Henry is a killer, one who’s lust for macabre art leads him down a path of ultimate destruction that eventually costs him his life. Murders aside, there isn’t a lot more to DARK WATER’s central character, this despite being a person of interest in his wife’s murder.

The style of DARK WATER can be confusing while at the same time artistic. I battled a constant love/hate relationship with this book; had there been a clear path to articulating the violence in a manner that didn’t leave the outcome too ambiguous then DARK WATER would’ve been just that much better. As it was I struggled to form an understanding as to what happened after reading a confrontation that left someone presumably dead only for them to appear later in the book.

I did enjoy the twisted love triangle which is tailored made for noir enthusiasts – this is an element that could have been fleshed out more to provide added depth to the characters and plot.

Overall, DARK WATER is a pretty decent book and one that I think will get better with subsequent reads. I’ll def be going back for a re-read.

~Josh

Dark in the title, Noir in the narrative. This may be a novella, but at a modest 82 pages the book contains a smorgasbord of extremes by way of suicide, murder, torture and brutal revenge. Number Thirteen Press brings us the tale of Harry, a convicted killer who is on the run because he’s the prime suspect in the search for the killer of his wife.

~Crime Fiction Lover

Ironically, Dark Water, though about grim and depraved crime, made me euphoric while reading it, sentence by strikingly beautiful sentence. This book shows Ariana D. Den Bleyker to be one of the major talents of our age, with a mastery that allows her to change our psyches forever with the profound dynamics between her characters.

~Tantra Bensko

Another novella, for the past month or so, novellas and short story collections have been part of my main reading habit. I’m currently reading a novella and a short story collection now and I think I will continue to do so. Not because giant tomes aren’t my thing anymore, I just got so used to reading on the kindle that books with tiny font and heavy weight are just not for me now.

So I got this for free when Number Thirteen Press started giving e-books out. When I find a small press, the first books I check out are the books written by non-White authors or women. Basically, I pay attention to the marginalized voices first, because those are the books that get the least recognition. So I decided to read this novella by an author who has written several poetry chapbooks. I’ve never heard of her, but have heard of her literary journals.

Although, I kind of have to say that this wasn’t the best noir I’ve read, I found it quite confusing, but beautiful in it’s prose and sadistic main characters. What threw me off the most was the dialogue being written in italics. So I couldn’t tell if the characters were thinking or whispering until the author said so. I found it odd and it added to the confusion. But then I read the synopsis for the plot and things were clear, but the italicized dialogue, I will just assume it was a stylistic reason, a formatting issue, or maybe all of the characters really were speaking in low hoarse tones like Christian Bale playing Batman.

What happens it that Henry is a painter, an artist, one day he loses it and kills his wife. He makes art out of corpses, carving in symbology into the flesh of his victims and pulling out their eyes, the silver coins are the last embellishments. When the police find the bodies, they are surprised to see that the victim has two shining silver coins for eyeballs. Then there’s Lorelei, John, and Elizabeth who are all tied with him somehow. They are all caught in some sort of web, where they are aware of what Henry is doing. there’s some sort of steam filled love triangle between the three (apparently John is good with the ladies) and they all want to kill Henry because Henry is losing it and is getting more vicious by the years.

I gotta say, this will make a terrifying movie, a new Silence of the Lambs. Except. Henry isn’t a cannibal. The ending ties up  like most insanity filled noir like this. It’s kind of obvious. I won’t reveal it.

For a novella, things go by pretty fast and time isn’t wasted, it’s at a good pace. What makes a good noir, from what I’ve read so far, is quick writing, but writing that has substance and very little filler unless you’re trying to write a novel, and you want to add in some more backstory with multiple plot strands. Every word to matter, but every word has to contain some sort of feel whether it’s gloomy, funny, or angry, it needs to mean something.

Henry doesn’t improve and I guess I can say he doesn’t get better either. He is the same old Henry throughout the novella, but Elizabeth loses her empathy and accepts that her brother is a murderer. She also has to accept that her lover is no different. And I guess I can say, that sort of leaves a strong woman tone to it, where I guess women can’t really trust dudes.

~Notes on the Shore


prosthesis:

The nihilist, the dreamer, the eternally hopeful painter, I could go on but those are just some of the characters and I want or prefer to talk about what they have to say. Picking up this book, reading Prosthesis, you don’t have to know anything other than the fact that you love beautiful prose. Do you like Emerson? Do you get lost in metaphors, perhaps his famous essay called “Experience?” This book is an experience, its format unlike any other format, and the yes the prose, constantly shifting, and then shocking you, sometimes a lamentation, or a curiosity that is both like an epiphany and a probing so deep beneath the surface; it goes beyond the edge of acceptable into where we all go when we are, yes, sick. When we are, yes, suffering. “Everything is heightened, invested with significance and a frantic energy” as “JustMe42” says at one point about mania or hypomania, but really very rarely are her characters frantic, are any of her characters written frantically. No, they are written care, their lives and observations so visceral. This beautiful experimental memoir about the author, Ariana D. Den Bleyker’s, lifelong battle with Bipolar Disorder will move you, if you are anything like me, really, if you are anything like a reader and want to read a really good book.

~ Katherine MacCue

Using the format of a blog forum called “Building Hope Blog” Prothesis shares an online community responding to posts from JustMe42. Each member of the forum shares snippets of personal information while providing support for others in their struggle against Bipolar Disorder. There is a great of deal wisdom to be found in these pages. AliveKickn says “Those of us who’ve felt the darkness appreciate the little things so much more.” BiPolarGirl78 says, “Falling apart gives you the opportunity to put yourself back together, like a phoenix from the ashes. You may never be quite the same, but that’s okay. Even in the dark, you’ve been quietly blooming and learning.”

There is an emotional immediacy in Prosthesis that makes the reader feel as if he or she is participating in the online community, cheering for the characters. Each section displays the masthead of the blog, drawing the reader in visually as well. This book offers hope to those suffering and insight to those hoping to understand.

~Amazon Customer

This title will absolutely ensnare you. The format is ingenious and breaks boundaries regarding the ‘memoir’ genre. Den Bleyker shares an intensely personal tale in a captivating way, never afraid to be honest in regards to a subject so often avoided. Brilliant, beautiful, and heart-wrenching– worth is in every word, and this publication is worth your every penny.

~Maggie Rehr


Finger : Knuckle : Palm:

Review by Steven Stam can be found here.

Review by Paul Edward Costa on Entropy can be found here.


 

The Trees are on Fire:

“I’d say that The Trees Are On Fire, the new collection of poems by Ariana Den Bleyker, is lush, and that would be an apt description. But what I really mean to say, in addition to the lushness and generosity of language in this volume, is that it is ripe.

Ripe, like the proverbial peach, or an heirloom tomato almost-soft, or whatever ripe thing turns you on the most. Ripe like these lines

The past
just leaks out of my pant legs:

… We fell asleep waiting to be buried at dawn.
Late that night, the sky was a fortress.
Throughout the world,
in everyone’s closet:

A favorite sweater,
A tailored suit.
Letters from old lovers
waiting to be found.

from “A Thought on a Backyard Trampoline.” Or ripe questions like these, from the title poem:

If the trees are indeed on fire, then why
does the sky only expose itself for the stars?
And if it’s a long way through the wilderness?
If the schoolyards are full of dying oaks?

Reading these poems is like finding yourself, unexpectedly, traveling in a dense jungle of words–fragrant, heady, intoxicating. Ripe. You’ll want to pick the poems, hoard them for yourself, sneak off and taste them, slowly, savoring each.”

~ Marian Kent, author of Responsive Pleading.


 

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