First of all, if you’ve never read any of the books from McSweeney’s Poetry Series, you’ve been missing out. These are beautifully made books, inside and out. In fact, you should go check them out: https://store.mcsweeneys.net/t/categories/books/poetry (and while you’re at it, put some of these onto your to-read / birthday / book wish list). I’ve read most of these and they were all good. Very good. And I’m not getting paid anything to say this.
Let me say that the mockup of the cover of Carr’s Whosoever Has Let a Minotaur Enter Them doesn’t really do the actual thing justice. The spine of the hardbound object I hold in my hand here is matte gold, and the cover image itself is also matte, which brings out the colors nicely. But let’s get to what really matters: what’s in the book.
a spoon scrapes the back of the universe. she looks into the mirror;
there are her lips, eyes
mind/ like a suitcase sprung
a pop anthem between
HER TEETH, LIKE MEAT.
) THERE WAS (WE DECIDED) NO HEAVEN
cut fruit glows in glass bowls/ a housecat flickers
(The passage above is from pages 40 and 41, everything is just as it is in the book except for my marking the page break.)
When I first opened this book and started reading, I’ll readily admit I felt a bit lost: There’s text in three places on each page — single lines in all-caps at the top and bottom, and couplets / stanzas / single lines in the middle of the page. This is a book that is best enjoyed with a degree of abandon. Don’t think too hard about how you should read this, or what it all means, and how it all fits together into some theoretical / critical / logical framework. Forget everything your high-school English teachers told you and let the book pull you in. Read it the way you read those books you didn’t want your folks to know about.
Carr’s poetry in Whosoever Has Let a Minotaur Enter Them is full of stunning images, often both beautiful and unexpected. I read the book in one go, and, for lack of better words, it was a heckuva ride, enjoyable through and through in all sorts of ways. Something like brain candy. Here’s a passage from page 32:
the click of flesh,
ether in a crystal bowl: lobes of liver & lungs
(A SINGLE THRILLED BRAINCELL)
The last line is, on the page, also the last line, one of those all-cap lines I mentioned earlier. As I look through the book again I notice that every time I really fell in love with a passage, the interaction between the (no-cap) text in the middle of the page and the all-cap text at top or bottom was a central element to my enjoyment. Here’s another, from page 36:
in greasesodden buns burgers fold slightly over our thumbs.
we grow mistyeyed, nostalgic.
a wet alphabet trembles in our spine. what
we ate — who we ate —
& HOW WE PREVAILED
I loved reading this book. It was very much experiential, and if you want to use the word psychedelic (as McSweeney’s does on the book’s website) you will likely be forgiven by anyone who has also read this collection. The book feels light, though as a writer I know how difficult it is to sustain this impression for any length of time, let alone throughout a whole collection. I’ll be on the lookout for more poetry by Carr, and this book is finally moving from my ‘to-read’ pile onto the ‘special’ poetry shelf, next to my other favorites.
If any of this sounds good to you, get a hold of Carr’s book, through your local / university library or (second hand or new) through bookfinder.com or (ideally) by ordering it directly from McSweeney’s. Also highly recommended, though very different in style: Victoria Chang’s The Boss, which I’ve reviewed here, and Carl Adamshick’s Saint Friend, which I really enjoyed and will get around to reviewing before long, hopefully.
Next in my to-read pile: another McSweeney’s poetry book, Remains by Jesus Castillo.