Above: Book’s cover art (Courtesy of Createspace Cover Creator ©)
By Sarah Hayes, A&E Editor
Readers of poetry who are entranced by the idea of “The Museum” should do well to keep in mind its back cover blurb as they open up to read the first poem: “A place where people are tortured and displayed as art. A world where creativity dies with humanity. A preview into the gritty reality of ‘Seeking Incandescence.’ Experience the haunting poetry and gruesome artwork of the imprisoned. May their martyrs bring you closer to enlightenment.” It becomes harder and harder, as the book progresses, not to imagine that the large blue eye that dominates the front cover is actually watching you as you read these fictional narratives of tortured souls. Perhaps that is the point. It is appropriate, then, that this book would come out during one of the eeriest periods of the year, when the shadows loom larger and things that scare are more appreciated.
“The Museum” is a collection of self-described dark poetry by local author Kristen Flood and illustrated by Jessica Boyer. It takes readers through a museum run by a woman named Clarabelle, who speaks to a nameless Savior upon which she has created this place of torture and experimentation. Each poem is a different test subject, each being put under a different, horrifying test designed to destroy the spirit and extinguish their artistic gifts—or anything that makes a person ‘different.’
The book is split up into two narratives, which run adjacent to each other on the page: the story of the person on display and the story of their ‘case’ and what is believed to be wrong with them—and the specific experiment these people are going under. Oftentimes, the treatment is suited to match the talent or perceived disorder of the subject. One subject, a painter, is watched to see if they eat the paint they have been locked in with. Another is unaware that the ‘wet air’ they are surrounded by means they are drowning, so the museum workers simply increase the amount of water flowing into the cell. The purpose for these things are clear: readjust or die. Unfortunately, readjustment is not a common test result.
What Flood does best in these poems is the shock and awe of each story. There is nothing safe about these poems; every piece has a cosmically depressing sting that drives home how bad a place the Museum actually is. We do not get any names of these subjects, or even physical descriptors or gender pronouns. And yet, between the visceral openness of their words and the cold clinical feel of the reports, they come together to create micro portraits of people that are as real as any photograph.
“The Museum” also makes reference to another location, as yet unseen in the given stories: Ares Academy. It is apparently a colorless place where “mute soldiers” go to become better cogs in the machine, and from which the colorful are made examples of as museum exhibits. Readers interested more in the Ares Academy and how it relates to the Museum will want to read the book advertised in the back, “Seeking Incandescence,” scheduled to come out spring 2016. Until then, we shall have to be content with haunting ourselves via Flood’s poetry premiere.