The Poem-Skull by J.M. Hushour

psSo, what if you’re a lazy text-hopping millennial with no direction?

So, what if you’re trapped in a loveless marriage to an asexual software designer who is on the brink of creating personalized gods/operating systems for computer users?
So, what if it turns out that half your peer group are actually sadistic villains hell-bent on eradicating art and beauty as we know it from the world?
So, what if a supernatural, poem-spouting skull sidekick appears on your kitchen counter one day?
So, what if art had to save the world?!?!
All the answers and more, including sadistic children’s singers, N.A.S.A.-themed adult entertainment, criminal pet owners, and prehistoric enthusiasts, await you in The Poem-Skull.

The Poem-Skull by J.M. Hushour is an odd book, but I think it is good to read an odd book at odd intervals in your life. Finnegans Wake by James Joyce was the last odd book I read and that was a few years ago, further back, there was The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne, and even further back, Titus Groan, Gormenghast and Titus Alone by Mervyn Peake. What The Poem-Skull has in common with the books I have mentioned, apart from being odd, and unlike a traditional novel, is a love of word play. All the way through The Poem-Skull, I admired its author’s mastery of words and his skilful play with them. Certainly, once in an inspired state, I cannot imagine him running dry. I like to write and read poetry, which is what drew me to the book. On one level, it intrigued me as a mystery, the mystery of the Poem-Skull. What is it, where did it come from, why did it appear out of nowhere in the life of Shiv Tickle, and how does it produce fragments of poems on paper from its mouth, I wondered. It was the Poem-Skull itself and the sometimes funny, sometimes seedy use of word play that kept me reading the book.
Some of the poems in the book I recognized as being by William Wordsworth, John Milton, Lewis Carroll and Emily Bronte, among others, and others were written by the author himself. Though it plays with the form of the novel, it is a proper novel, an attempt at a work of art. It is not the kind of book that tells you that this happened, then that happened, nor does it read like a story board to base a film script upon, like some extracts from the works of some famous modern writers I have read. In order to play with words you have to be a master of them, as best as you can be. The book could have been shorter, but then, so could most other books. It is a wild fantasy, rooted in the real world. Be brave, I would say to readers. Instead of choosing to read next another of your favourite kind of novel, read something odd, for a change, The Poem-Skull, for one good example. Learn of the dangers of having no direction, living with a lack of love, and admire along the way what a skilled writer can do with words.

Leave any literary baggage at the door and submit to this storm of word and image. There is a plot (read the blurb) but don’t worry about such trivial matters – just immerse your head in the language:

“Shiv Tickle, home sick, was part of a grander web of myth and sickness, one in which patient zero is the self, vector, symptom and end-stage – but, wait!Hold on…Who is this wretched, mucal creature? Let’s not prance into the room willy-nilly, she’s not feeling so hot, and blast her with inquiries as to her station. We don’t dare risk burdening you, reader, with frightloads of psychological exposition and characterization; we’ll keep that kind of c**p to a minimum here in the beginning and merely advance some cursory facts: the slow striptease of characters they may grow to love, sympathize with or – dare we say! – empathize with. Or hate. Some of them suck. Characters’ first impressions are like watermarks smiling up at you from within the page itself, omnipresent and adding a weird sense of legitimacy to the whole enterprise of fiction. Ahem.”

Other passages read like they were rejected by Joyce from Finnegan’s Wake because they were too dense or obtuse. I liked those the most because I could enjoy the gymnastics without having to think about what they mean.

“And where the *** was Bradley Sternum? Backlight words cast around seeking answers for there are other spectra creeping around this ****er.
She was disparate, shell-shocked in the name of an electrocuted turtle who lay gasping, half out of its shell and desperately struggling to retreat within! Don’t tase me, br’er! She had reached the unconscious and curious conclusion that her perpetual failure to love was somehow endemic, innate, intrinsic. Detective Feasance? Forgotten! Her encounter with “Oog? Abandonment!”

And if your head isn’t spinning when you get to the end, it will be if you attempt to follow the barrage of poetry links and references that form the back matter. I don’t know how many, let’s say about 100.
That’s where you find out the skull, in saving the universe, offers “little windows into other stories, stories of which ‘The Poem-Skull’ is but a conveyor” – with hyperlinks to the full texts in many cases.

Bio: Anyone reading my other reviews will notice that, these days, I am a crime/thriller/pulp fiction man, but a change of diet is a good for the health, so I am glad I happened on the challenging, but ultimately joyful, Yooniverse of The Poem-Skull. All that remains now is to follow some of those poetry links, and then probably come back to this again – the only drawback is that I suspect it will take much mre than one revisit to get close to the Poem Skull’s secret.

The Poem-Skull
Literary fiction, speculative fiction, humor, poetry


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