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Poetry Book Review:

Poems For The Utopian Nihilist

by Milo Martin

poems for utopian nihilistNot many poets can boast of having started their own school of poetics. But Milo Martin can.

Martin's Utopian Nihilist school of poetics is defined by the concrete definitions of the two words within that name. Utopian = a belief in an ideal society; Nihilist = someone who believes all existence if futile or that all belief systems are moral and absolute failures. If the irony of the apparent contradiction hits you square in the face, that's because it was intended to be.

Poems For The Utopian Nihilist are just what you'd expect them to be. Abstract contradictions with destructive assertions and aggressive proclamations. They are as formal as you'd expect from a nihilist and as committed to the free verse American tradition as you'd expect of a utopian idealist. But they are not great, though the poet has moments that tease the boundary of greatness.

Milo Martin's strength is his ability to come up with a turn-of-phrase that is unique and clever. But he rarely achieves greatness throughout a poem even if he manages to pull out an awesome line or stanza here and there. Some of his poems carry of the flavor of Allen Ginsburg or the mediocrity of lesser Beat poets. But he can be placed squarely in the Postmodern camp with flirtations toward the avant-garde (and who doesn't flirt with the avant-garde today?).

But I don't want to cast too much darkness where there is light. Martin is at his best when he's fully committed to nihilism. His dark narratives – even the satirical ones – are most reflective of his skill as a versifier. Most poets can't write long narratives that continue to hold interest page after page, stanza after stanza. But Milo Martin does his best work in those poems. The big problem with Poems For The Utopian Nihilist is that there are too many poems in the collection. His great work is offset by the mediocre poems and that's a shame.

Milo Martin is great at creating images that sting. Unfortunately, he can get esoteric, leaving less abstract-thinking readers scratching their heads. Clarity is not the forte of the nihilist. Some readers will appreciate Martin's incorporation of abstract paintings as artwork throughout Utopian Nihilist. That didn't turn me on, but some people like that.

As a taste, I give you these lines from “Pulled Down”. They illustrate Martin's excellent imaginative skills and his use of white space to create his own form within the free verse tradition.
and to think that he was faithful
and to think that he had fasted
and to think that he had held his words
most of the time
crossed out     passed over     pulled down
	alla the springloader alla
	drapes burqas over the beards of dead young cats
	sprinkles wheat flour into their ears
	lays them down into a hole of locusts
	pushed in     rolled over     laid down
every morning before any one else
he set the tapestried stand in the center of the square
made sure he was there on time
put the pomegranates out
shined the mystical bank holder
represented the goodness of bright transaction
no matter:   pushed over     crossed out     pulled down
	alla the bringtaker alla
	lingers breathes under the wooden table
	of the ancient crosscut family
	whispers remedies and rewards into dusty ankles
	offers up apple tea on yellow pillows for dessert
	talked into     talked over     talked down
That's not the full poem, but Martin exerts an energy here that he maintains consistently throughout and that includes his commitment to the repetition and indentations of every other paragraph. The poem is laid out well and thematically offers a good read.

Martin's philosophy comes through loud and clear in his poems. They aren't for everyone. Many readers will find them abhorrent, but if you are a fan of Bukowski, the Beats, Postmodern abstractions, surrealism, and poetry that entertains with dark and rollicking vindictive themes then you'll probably get him.

Order your copy of

Poems For The Utopian Nihilist
by Milo Martin


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