BOOK REVIEW: JORDAN TRETHEWEY & MARCEL HERMS’ ‘SPIRITS FOR SALE’ IS HAUNTED BY YOUR EBAY PURCHASES
DECEMBER 2, 2019CORENSKI NOWLAN
‘Spirits for Sale‘ is the new book from prolific Fredericton poet, Jordan Trethewey. Beautifully illustrated by Dutch artist Marcel Herms, the collection explores the uniquely modern and bizarre phenomenon of selling haunted objects online.
Humanity has always been a superstitious and gullible lot. We are more than willing to suspend our disbelief because we are a storytelling species. Accounts of the supernatural are particularly appealing to us, piquing our curiosities and fanning our fears of the unknown.
Urban legends, and cautionary tales have always existed, and have never failed to capture our collective imaginations. With each generation, our interest in the paranormal has evolved with our ever changing culture. From Slender Man to Momo, the internet has given us a fresh breed of monsters.
Each poem from ‘Spirits for Sale‘ is based off of an eBay item description, the titles are the sellers’ usernames, and each poem ends with the “Buy-it-Now” price. In his research, Trethewey discovered that the trinkets which fetch the most money, are often those with the most detailed, outlandish expositions attached.
Why? Because everyone loves a good old fashioned ghost story!
Choose your ghastly fantasy: a framed photo of a woman whose eyes apparently will follow your every move, a skeleton key that once unlocked the shackles of insane asylum patients, a crushed velvet altar cloth that was used in dark, pagan rituals… there’s something for everyone!
sealed crystal vessel
holds evil centipede man
imprisoned by priest
monstrously hard to open
terrible luck is certain
The poems are written in the traditional Japanese genre of “Tanka,” which is similar to the popularly known Haiku, but employs more syllables per stanza. However, this stylistic choice means that conjoining words are often missing. At times this can make for a choppy read since some ideas seem to get abruptly cut off.
However, more so than not, the lack of conjunctions and use of sentence fragments create a consistent tonal flow throughout. Eventually, I found myself immersed in the text and deeply appreciating the unconventional format.
Furthermore, the poetic structure was reminiscent of “text speak” in which the sender purposely tries to shorten sentences as much as possible, without their intention being lost in translation. Whether this was a conscious effort or simply a by-product of Tanka, it definitely works and strengthens the assertion that Trethewey makes in his foreword that this is “poetry for a digital age, and digital attention spans.”
The “voice” of the book strikes me as a detached – perhaps even automated – narrator. A computer program that is tasked with scanning auctions and generating a condensed summary of the what it reads? The vibe is cold, robotic, and creepy…
The art in the book is striking and every poem gets its own picture! Some are very obvious, literal interpretations of the text, while others seem to be more abstract and left to the beholder. All of them, however, are exceptionally eerie.
Herms’ technique is equal parts simplistic and meticulous. A true visual dichotomy. A battle wages within each image; fine lines that look like chicken scratches and smeared thicker streaks, constantly compete for dominance. Yet, simultaneously, the two elements work in perfect union, flawlessly blending to create true macabre.
There is a childlike innocence at work, elements of some sketches not all that different than what could be found on an elementary school bulletin board. But beware! Fear and trauma have polluted these snapshots. They are twisted, deformed and decaying.
My only complaint about the artwork is that it is not presented in full colour. Judging from the book’s front and back covers, which are colourized, I would love to see the completed versions of all the pieces.
‘Spirits for Sale’ is a refreshing collection of poetry, that demonstrates how technology is reshaping some of our age old forms of expression and entertainment. It is published by Pski’s Porch and is available through their website, on Amazon as a print edition or ebook, or at The Tipsy Muse Café in downtown Fredericton.