Josh Olsen reviewed Unexpected Mergers:
“Unexpected Mergers is the latest collaboration between poet Jordan Trethewey and artist Marcel Herms, published by Pski’s Porch Publishing. One can likely assume the title of the collection comes from what one may view as an unlikely pairing between Trethewey and Herms, but clearly the poet has a strong personal connection to the contemporary Dutch painter’s work, this being Trethewey’s second collection of ekphrastic poetry inspired by Herms. It’s rather refreshing to read a collection of collaborative ekphrastic poetry where the artist is still working among the living, rather than the more typical poetry inspired by the work of another long-gone hero, if for no other reason than one can assume that the working relationship of Trethewey and Marcel may continue to grow and evolve, and hence Trethewey’s inspiration for poetic verse may adapt to Marcel’s art, whatever it may become. Marcel’s art, reproduced in full color in Unexpected Mergers, reminded me of what it may look like if Basquiat were a fan of the early-2000s Nickelodeon cartoon Invader Zim and listened to Tool (which I mean as a compliment, by the way). In many of Marcel’s paintings are various small, alien-like figures, which seems to remind Trethewey of his children. A number of the poems in Unexpected Mergers resonate with themes of family and parenthood, and those are the poems that I thought were the most effective in their approach. “Trying to keep the demons outside” transforms the speaker’s children into literal demons, with names like Abbadon and Mammon, who want to come in from the cold to watch TV and play video games,
They want the remotes
joysticks and controllers
lying around the house,
which most parents can relate to, especially if you had to homeschool your kids last year, while “We’re in this together now” describes two parents as they visit their baby in the N.I.C.U.,
Her body is clad in diaper
and toque, bum
to an artificial sun.
Other poems by Trethewey take a more literal approach. For example, “A day at the beach” is inspired by a black and white painting of a nude man and woman with the words “AT THE BEACH” written out at the bottom of the image, and the poem is about a couple’s day at a nude beach. “Daily Bread” describes, line by line, a haggard individual painted by Herms. Trethewey’s description of this person is almost animalistic,
I stare into his mongrel eyes.
He clutches the beef bone
to an emaciated chest,
and if it weren’t for the inclusion of Mercer’s painting to the left of the poem, it would be easy for the reader to assume the poem is about a stray pitbull, rather than a man. While Trethewey’s family-themed poems are among the most enjoyable in Unexpected Mergers, two of my personal favorites come back-to-back near the end of the book. “Long time man” is a horrific little poem, paired with a haunting painting that resembles a blood splatter or Rorschach test,
Long time man
Blood pooled around
marred by bullet hole
in the head.
on kitchen tiles—
cause of death evident
without incriminating evidence.
Final drop of love
the last time he opened
his automatic mouth—
she put a barrel in it
.while the poem that precedes it, “Through Night Windows,” is creepy and concise. The speaker of the poem presumably finds his artistic inspiration by peeping through his neighbors’ windows,
I pass by
hoping for narratives lit from inside.
For a collection titled Unexpected Mergers, Trethewey and Herms’s collaboration is rather symbiotic, and I would guess that we can expect another merger from these two in the near future.”
Unexpected Merger’s is available now from Pski’s Porch Publishing. https://www.pskisporch.com/?p=896