“Bulletproof” (Grey Borders Books, 2017), the latest collection from Wolfgang Carstens who heads Epic Rites Press, is in character with his previous work: death is around the corner; tomorrow never comes.
The themes here are focused, as befits a twenty-three-page gut punch chapbook. Survival comes to the fore in the first poem, a tribute to Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead fame, who claimed he was indestructible while “smoking,/drinking,/and touring/at 70.”
Cigarettes are another common occurrence throughout the twenty-one poems, all of which sport Carstens’ signature short lines. “James” captures the essence of Carstens’ observations, which include his own smoking.
“the only thing James did
without smoking a cigarette
The short lines emphasize the importance of enjambment, which Carstens pulls off masterfully. In a poem about putting down his dog, he reflects
Here, the lower case i is the insignificant actor whose loss is the real subject of the poem. The poems all feel personal but without being stagnantly attached to Carstens or any one person. The frustrations, the inconsistencies, and the hypocrisies throughout the poems are all characteristics we share. The “should have” is the crux of this section. This emphasizes the loss, the regret, the promise to do better with the next chance, the promises we all make to ourselves when we wake up.
The next line is enjambment working its magic. It’s not that he didn’t walk her, though for a moment the reader might believe so. This leads to the last line, which is the future promise but also the heightened sense of loss that expands the poem beyond the loss of a dog, attaching itself to loss generally.
The contrasts and contradictions of survival amid certain death
“i used to believe
i was bulletproof…
those days are gone”
move the poems beyond the cliché in “you started walking”
“it is never
As in previous collections, Janne Karlsson, a Swedish madman whose veins exude the same reverent irreverence for what it means to be human, does the cover illustrations. My only complaint is that the illustrations came out pixilated. I also took some issue with the size of the titles for the poems and their proximity to the top of the page. These, however, are minor complaints, especially for a book of amusing hard-hitting poems that cost less than a pack of cigarettes. The collection is available here http://greybordersbooks.jigsy.com/wolfgang-carstens for five Canadian dollars.