LEGAL DISCLOSURE: I was given an ebook review copy from which to write this review. I was not paid.
Volodymyr Bilyk, ROADrage (zimZalla, 2019) 110 pages, poetry, $6.07 USD.
Available at zimZalla. Except for the opening quote, italics denote a quote from the book itself.
"Do the work." - Anna Strong Stafford
Bilyk urges us to quench the nullity. What nullity? The nullity of language itself in the 21st century. The avant-garde and experimental today seek to expand poetry's relevance in this century by finding new approaches to language, even as the way language is used continues to shift in society. By stating quench the nullity, Bilyk declares against the modern tendency to emasculate language as a semantic tool. To accomplish this, he gathers every technique of the 20th-century poetic canon (Eliot, Pound, Stein, Joyce, etc.), pours them all into one mixing bowl, stirs vigourously, and pours out the batter into a poetics that is uniquely Bilyk. In the book's introduction, he evokes the Mobius Strip as an illustration of what he is attempting to accomplish here. The end result could aptly be described as M.C. Escher in the medium of words.
As suggested by the title, this is a collection of dystopian rage - as in this line: (veer ---/ "seethe"/ there-there// merely.) - and much of it reads like a fistfight on some congested street in garish daylight. There is a theatrical aspect to it - the book ends with CURTAINS. - there is a deliberate winking toward sophisticated campiness here. I say sophisticated because Bilyk has "done the work" as a poet and requires his readers to likewise "do the work". This is a case of the void, flourished.
The separate poems, if indeed they are separate, read as largely one unit due to being untitled. There is a refreshing flow to this collection. This oneness allows the reader greater interpretive freedom: the reader can decide for him/herself where one poem ends and another begins.
This fluidity of interpretation continues into the entertaining use of punctuation. At times this is reminiscent of computer programming code, old fashioned text emojis, and/or morse code. Since punctuation in writing represents where and how one breathes when reading, one is forced to rethink how one breathes as a form of expression all its own, to rejoice the odd breath. "ROADrage" can be said to be written in Confounded beat,/ Clarion whish - tongue winding: .
Bilyk's greatest strength is alliteration, as in ... thunder thwacks,/ ./ rolls wry rebellow:/ speeded up/ to rash; . The book screams to be read aloud. There are some poems where semantics are discarded for acronyms and nonwords, experiments with pure sound as if the poems were WWII era intel code-speak.
This is one of the most exciting collections I've come across in a decade, guaranteed to shift your perspective on language in the 21st century - both as an art form and its everyday use. This book is the very definition of a literary mind trip with purpose.