Interview with Sarah Bigham: MockingHeart Review (2018)
Interview with Ben Tanzer: This Podcast Will Change Your Life (2017)
Interview with Clare Martin: MockingHeart Review (2017)
Interview with Jennifer Dotson: Poetry Today (2016)
Interview with Gay Degani: Words in Place (2016)
Interview with Norm Goldman: BookPleasures (2015)
Interview with a Computer: Smashwords (2015)
Interview with Nicolette Wong: Meditations in an Emergency (2014)
Interview with Didi Menendez: PoetsArtists (2014)
Interview with Nic Sebastian: Moving Poems Forum (2014)
Interview with Joani Reese: Connotation Press (2012)
Interview with Susan Tepper: Fictionaut (2011)
Interview with Roxanne Gay: PANK (2010)
Interview with Michael C. Watson and Shelley Nation (audio): Wordslingers Radio Show (2010)
Interview with Meg Pokrass: Fictionaut (2010)
Review of WE ALL SAW IT COMING (Locofo Chaps, an imprint of Moria Press, 2017)
Bill Yarrow’s title confronts us with an uncomfortable paradox. While we all saw it coming, in the sense of arriving like a mob of drunken, unwanted guests – the racism, xenophobia, misogyny, chest-thumping nationalism tinged with white supremacy – most of us did not see it coming, and were shocked by the election results. As the title poem has it:
We all saw it coming
the peat moss racists
the neonatal Nazis
the bully trident planted
the ratcheting down of sense
I well remember watching the Daily Show as John Stewart gleefully mocked Trump’s announcement that he would run for president, and, of course, I relished the joke, just as I joined in when so many predicted that his candidacy would fall apart, or even better, lead to a Democratic landslide and maybe even control of both houses of Congress. We all saw it coming, but…
Yarrow’s poem twists away from the camouflage of “we” in the poem’s final lines:
We all saw it coming
I don’t mean we
I don’t mean we saw it coming
I mean I, I saw it coming
and did nothing
Many fine poems in this collection work in the language of grief and rage. Look at poems like “Behave Yourself” (he can’t) or “Go Unlovely Trump” (after Waller’s “Go, Lovely Rose’). In “Semi Tiresias,” a series of triplets describe portents of approaching debility or death:
I knew my mother would die by the weekend
when she declined to answer my questions
about her parents or her youth
I knew my uncle would die a pauper
when he grew obsessed
with drafting a will
The personal suddenly shifts to the political in the final section:
I knew America would be a colony again
when it forsook consensus
What makes this piece so bitter is the personal prophecies are so inevitable, marking, as they do, the devouring power of time over the human body and mind, while the political prophecy describes a failure that is unmoored from natural processes of decay; they are self-inflicted and unnecessary. And that may be why I took such comfort in my favorite poem in the collection, a brilliant response to Ludovico Carracci’s painting Body of Saint Sebastian Thrown into the Cloaca Maxima, which is on the collection’s cover, and, in a different way, in the text. The poem, “Ways of Seeing: Carracci,” describes the saint asleep or unconscious, “about to be/thrown into the great sewer of Rome,” and that after having been transformed into a pincushion of Roman arrows. But the painting’s secret, and the poem’s, involves rotating the image:
then he becomes beautifully
vertical, his dreaming body
like a sleeping bird floating
in warm, soft air
Then the closed fists and flexed
forearms of the executioners
are seen impotently attempting
to hold him down but nothing
human can prevent his rise
We can hope that defeat and humiliation, the emergence of all we find dangerous and repugnant about American nativism, can be turned, transformed into and by a newly energized body politic.
—Steve Klepetar in Galatea Resurrects 2017
Reviews of THE LICE OF CHRIST (MadHat Press 2014)
Bill Yarrow’s The Lice of Christ (MadHat Press, 2014) is a brilliant tour de force. Not a weak moment in the poetry collection. Amazing movement, poem to poem. From “Something, He Wrote”: “Mayakovsky wrote // in the cathedral / of my heart / the choir / is on fire.” If you want to read a collection that is an exploration of poetic possibilities – theme, form, tone, style… this is the book to read.
—Sam Rasnake, author of Cinema Verite
The Lice of Christ (MadHat Press 2014) may be the most subversive book of poems I have read. The poet seems manic, word drunk and antagonistic towards an enterprise, a contest in which he is compelled to compete. His poems behave like lit fuses, destroying themselves in a shower of brilliance as they attack themselves, their reader, the act of poetry, of the futility of verse and its petty, easily-conjured and momentary effects. Like a fuse too, the book’s movement seems to drive scarily towards an explosion which will forever fragment meanings and the poets who work for them, (even Yeats isn’t spared).
Often the reader feels mocked for admiring a couplet, a connection, the inspired invention involved in the making of a list (there are many lists herein, absurdist how-to instructions or maxims or aphorisms gone askew, it seems, and they can be profound or quippy) and often one is saddened by the possibilities of a poem that seems sketched, blocked-in, then besmirched or abandoned; the vandalisms committed here are inbuilt parts of the book’s doubled aesthetic.
The Son of God had lice, says this poet, but read on. He belongs to the noble and merciful few who groomed the Savior, eased his suffering, picked the vermin off Christ’s body. But read on. The sentiment is an analogy, possibly a hostile one, from Adolphus of Smyrna and from a volume named The Incanteron, one most readers will not know. So whatever motives we may attach to the title are (the author shrugs) not his, for good or bad.
This whirlpool of gaming, (we see the pun on Life of Christ, we recognize that some will find only blasphemy, we understand that the author is celebrating his craft and chosen art with a quote, and we see too the mischief in the choice of title and its meaning and shadow meanings) informs the whole volume.
At its best, the work concentrates on doing the enormously-complicated and difficult business of making poetry and making a sequence of poems which sing, even, or especially, dark songs. At its weakest, the book works against its own purposes, is conflicted, is a manifestation of a writer so gifted he doubts that what he is up to could have much purpose.
—James Robison, author of The Illustrator
Bill Yarrow’s slightly blasphemous The Lice of Christ puns on the goal of all the Christian gospels, which is to present the life of Christ. But it also comes from a quotation by Adolphus of Smyrna, “I call Poet he who picks the lice off Christ.” Somehow, that quotation, however startling, seems less blasphemous. And the tension between blasphemy and reverence appears and reappears throughout this book. But it’s not, for me, what the book is about. It’s about poetic form.
Yarrow divides it into three sections. In the first he writes poems that rely on quick and surprising juxtaposition and are held together by a seemingly innocuous detail—in the following case, food:
Janet and I
had the tilapia
fish tacos and
talked about God
God ordered the veal
cutlet and was rebuked
by the vegetarian Politburo
The beer had a divine odor which
attracted the wasps of mortuary remorse
The first two stanzas of this poem, “Theorizing Salsa,” begin by positing someone or someones eating a specific, but also seemingly random piece of food. They both then move to a surprisingly disconnected final word, in one case “God” and the other “Politburo.” The third stanza connects beer to remorse. We are left wondering about the connection between God and tacos, Politburo and the act of rebuking, and beer and “mortuary remorse.” But that’s not what is most essentially happening here, I think. Yarrow has set up three stanza that rely on a seemingly random, but somehow fitting, final word or two.
This poem says nothing about life. Instead, it enacts randomness. Its form stuns and surprises, three times, and strikes out in a fine way.
In the second section Yarrow precedes each line with a bullet point. These poems tend to be longer than those in the first section, and they do say things. In fact, they read like a string of related aphorisms:
- God is man squared. That is to say, God is man raised to a higher power.
- Man is the root, the square root, of God.
- We believe in the ideal (truth, wisdom, justice, honor, integrity, selflessness, sacrifice, compassion, goodness) and God is the name we give to that ideal.
- What else is God but a heuristic for what we want to do with our lives?
Later in the same poem, Yarrow addresses jealousy, but then returns to his concern with God:
- Jealousy is a cocktail made of equal parts insecurity and possession.
- Before we can be jealous, we must make our mate our thing.
- Our God is a jealous God. What an unfortunate idea.
These poems work by stringing together aphorisms through the repetition of certain words or ideas. They spin around several axes—in this case God, Agnosticism, Jealousy, Vengeance, Prayer, Religion in general, the Devil, Genetics, even Vegetables. One axis sticks around for the whole poem: God. The others appear for a section, then disappear. It is as if the word “God” has a series of dance partners, until the very end—when he drops out, and the axis becomes the Devil.
Here again, the poem is about the form. We are left, yes, to ponder Yarrow’s statements about God. But it seems to me the poem is more about the act of juxtaposition, the way statements, words, and ideas can be strung together, like popcorn dyed multiple colors and strung up, and the string is God.
In the third section, Yarrow usually tells stories. But these stories have a way of turning on themselves, in becoming not-stories. Most telling is “This Is Not a Poem,” which concerns the story of a preacher’s dog tracking motor oil in a hotel lobby and the journalist who was going to win the Pulitzer for reporting on it. In the end, however, we learn that none of this did, or can happen. “No preacher. No dog. No town. … No [reporter]. Just the viral thought of him.”
These knot-stories almost always contained a note of absurdity. Again, they are about the form. The form of narrative. What we choose and choose not to tell. How any narrative, even a true one, runs into and rubs up against a type of fiction.
It doesn’t matter, so much, what Yarrow says, even when he is blaspheming. It matters what he does.
—Jefferson Hansen, editor of Altered Scale, author of Cruelty
Not for the faint of heart (or soul), Bill Yarrow’s poems pack a punch that sends the reader reeling into the universe, untethered and unapologetic. These dark, subversive poems are sure to offend many, but if read with wit and care, one’s sure to find brilliance and beauty there too.
—Emily Bertholf, Goodreads review
Review of INCOMPETENT TRANSLATIONS AND INEPT HAIKU (Cervena Barva Press 2013)
Incompetent Translations and Inept Haiku is a poetry chap book from widely published Illinois poet Bill Yarrow. Spoiler alert! Having read his other recent chap book, The Lice of Christ ( MadHat Press), and his full length collection, Pointed Sentences (BlazeVox ), I should have known better than to expect a book of actual scholarly translations and haiku poetry written in classical 17 syllable, 3 line, 5-7-5 form. I hope I’m not giving away too much, other than revealing the extent of my own naïveté, but I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me a while to realize the joke was on me and that this chap book is no such thing.
Each of the twenty seven poems in this chap book conveys a message with a light hearted sense of ironic humor without being trite or overly jocular. I would not categorize Bill Yarrow as a “satirist” per se. However, he certainly does have a wicked eye for irony and for seeing humor in the absurd, and finds a way to convey that through poetry, as he has done with a wink and a wry smile in this chap book. Incompetent Translations and Inept Haiku is a romp through comparative poetics and an exploration of classical theme, form, tone, style and convention. At the same time, Yarrow manages to playfully poke fun at pretension without being mean spirited or overly pedantic. Don’t get me wrong. Bill Yarrow does write serious poetry in this collection and as a poet, he is the real deal. However, one of his gifts is the ability to compose poems with a serious message, but delivered with deadpan humor.
Bill Yarrow’s raucous send up of Rimbaud’s “The Drunken Boat” (“Le Bateau ivre”) is worth the price of admission. My understanding of the French language leaves much to be desired, but I know enough to enjoy the comedy he makes of his “incompetent translation” from a revered poet who has been overly romanticized to the degree that Rimbaud himself would be embarrassed by his pop icon status. At the very least, he’d find this translation subversively amusing. Yarrow’s treatment of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” ~“Song of Unself” (“Translations from The English”) is absolutely hilarious.
Other poems are wonderful narrative reflections on childhood, (Playing Pinochle In Your Snout) clutter and decay, (The Basement Of Desire) and his own poetry ( What The Hell Am I Doing?) And then there’s a character named Cranshaw who recurs in several poems. Cranshaw is audacious, flamboyant and outrageous and seems a little dangerous to hang out with, but I want more of him.
All that aside, it’s not all tongue in cheek. Light-hearted does not mean light-weight. This chap book sneaks through the back door to examine and celebrate the importance of language, syntax, interpretation and the gravity of imagery in poetry. This is a chap book of real poetry from a real poet that reminds us that good art doesn’t always need to be somber and serious to successfully convey its message. As erudite as the poems in this chap book are, they are also often rollicking and playful, and at times, just plain fun. I thoroughly enjoyed this chap book, and I think you will too.
—Michael Gillan Maxwell (In Drive-By Book Reviews)
Reviews of FOURTEEN (Naked Mannekin Press 2011)
Fourteen poems, fourteen lines each. That’s Bill Yarrow’s compact chapbook, titled—wait for it—Fourteen. Available now as a free download (link below), Fourteen is a collection of brilliantly inventive poems that are sure to dazzle as well as entertain. Often blackly humorous, and often reading like mini-stories, these poetic tales of love, death, desire, and heaven and hell and all that falls between, are rich with wit n’ wisdom n’ aphorisms. Take for example these pithy observations:
‘What happens in Heaven stays in Heaven.’
‘He had a mind like a whorehouse martini, but that doesn’t negate the leverage of a man’s heart.’
I’ve read about the algebra of need. Stevie’s need was arithmetic.’ (From “Stevie’s Knees”, about a gambler, in trouble with the mob.)
And in this excerpt from “George,” a veteran, fresh back from Vietnam, visits a former boss who had been kind to him once:
‘Kindness is magnetic but the past is a loose adhesive and rarely is employment a glue.’
Standouts in this collection are many, and they include “Hitting The Wall”; “Joan Of Dark”; “Stevie’s Knees”; “George”; “The Proud Accounting”; and “Four Noble Lies” (an excerpt:)
‘When Carlotta left me I cried into my soup. I shriveled into harsh mathematics. A decade later I was living with Karen. She had goldfish and good taste.’
And perhaps my very favorite, the flurry of unforgettable non-stop images that is “Raw Salt.” To do it justice, I’d have to copy the entire poem here. Which would be easy; it’s less than a hundred words. But, honestly? Just download this collection and have a look for yourself. It’s easy, and it’s free.
Fourteen can be downloaded (epub, pdf, Kindle) here:https://www.smashwords.com/books/view….
Again, this collection is a brief read, and free, so it’s impossible to just say no to Fourteen. And it’s a fine introduction to Yarrow’s vast body of work (You won’t catch me ever saying ‘oeuvre’. Nope, you just won’t).
For links to Yarrow’s many publications, interviews, and lectures, and to many dozens of his poems, please see his Fictionaut page here:http://fictionaut.com/users/bill-yarrow
—Ray Nessly (Goodreads review)
Wow. I urge readers to try Bill Yarrow’s FOURTEEN chapbook. This clever, glib take on life and death and spiritual spaces between truly caught me. (I’d planned to merely download it tonight, but then, the words compelled me to read on.)
For example the opening poem “Eyes off the Road,” begins “One by one I lost my desires/Dirty ambition left first/Knowledge raged but then it cooled.” And after delving a tad more into those desires, it ends; “My desires. . .bolted to a/lapis slab, await me in Heaven/With any luck I’ll go to Hell.”
Popping up like dandelions throughout this collection, Yarrow’s witty lines set me chuckling. I cracked up when the persona runs into a woman he “hadn’t seen . . since Carter was President” with perfume that “returned–with a vengeance.”
And he opens the poem, “Joan of Dark” with “What happens in heaven stays in heaven.” Surreal and flip, Yarrow’s style is a smooth ride through chaos and reminiscent of James Tate’s, one of my poet heroes. Well worth reading.
—Lindsey Martin-Bowen (Goodreads review)