Poetry Review: Heath Ison’s Moments of Intermission

Illo for review of Heath Ison's book.The pages of this book are stained with corporate piss-streams and a variety of molds. Hidden company slogans and public service announcements. It’s anthropogenic erotica. Erotic bacteria. It’s a meaner Brazil. In other words, this book is stained with Hollywood. In other wards, American Dreams. In Heath Ison’s Moments of Intermission (Plastic/Other, 2015), charisma is your local head-nodding police officer and human culture is a throat swab that always tests positive for obligatory destinations and historical fallacies. Culture: something monitored in a cyberpunk-ish big top of water cooler rings where your dead-inside co-workers gather to exchange information instead of conversations. Numbers instead of words. Numbers of transactions, calories, prayers, rumors, Facebook ‘Likes,’ statistics, successfully accomplished work goals, etc. Again, it feels like humans have numbers, not conversations. It sometimes feels like we’re not even supposed to know who the hell we are anymore . . .

And who exactly are the voices in this collection of poems? A dirtbag? A dirt-body that strokes itself? A mold of clay? A variation? A sickness? Something viral? A clone? Is it the voice of a machine? Does the speaker have the body of a machine? Is it Death? Is it Death speaking? Is it Writer? Is it Willis? Is it Hendrick? Who wrote the Writer? Who is it? Is it Heath Ison? Who is Heath Ison? What is Heath Ison? Is Heath Ison a mouthpiece for matter? Is Heath Ison a mouthpiece for technological contagion? The many voices in these poems coagulate. Like blood. They scab down the pages. For example, “I Dismember Reality on a Daily Basis”:

i obtain information
break information
seek information
destroy information
categorize information, then scramble the
pixilate the information
copy and paste the information
my personal ideology on this is: the more
information you obtain the more you become
meshed with this reality, therefore you must
lobotomize the information

And “The Ecstasy of Bleach”:

The generalization of my being is simply this: I am made up of pipes and valves that leak internal fluids. I am a system of organs functioning in unison that craves oxygen to proceed. My body is aching for death but I keep it alive through banal pleasures.

There’s often a hysteric, masochistic quality to the voices in these poems. The uselessness of a name or possessing a name is noted many times throughout the book. The book androidizes more than it humanizes. In “Death Meets Fate,” Death is a character that is android-like because the character’s interactions with Fate are mechanical yet human. Contagion is a character that verbs itself outwardly into Viruses that spread and mutate into forms of Language, or Truth, or God. “It’s just language,” something says. Something reverbs with a brutal, “Just language, huh?” It’s relentless in its wariness of social positivisms.

Ison demonstrates his love of comics with his noticeable taste for the syntactical, visual side of poetry. For instance, he sometimes shifts gears and sidetracks the reader with something that looks less like a poem or short story and more like a computer terminal. Or word search. I stumble through the word search on page 18 titled “Glossolalia” and wonder if I should be reading the “YOUR” I came across as an “OUR.” Later, I see “JUGDE” and wonder if I’m forcing myself to want to see the misspelling as the word “JUDGE” or if it’s just a coincidence. Why am I expecting judgment? I come across word after word and wonder what Ison wants me to see. I think this is because the word search begins with a preface: “Your saliva coats your tongue. It becomes liquefied with religious ecstasy and looks at me.” I ask myself if I should consider the words as a string of data or contemplate each word individually. I’ve written down found words in the margin of the page: MINDSET BAN BEGINNING ALLOW FUCKED FED.” Is this word search supposed to be functioning like a hell-bent mirror? Is it reflecting me? Or the author—Heath Ison?


Illo for Heath Ison review.


I feel manipulated by this book.

I feel satisfied by this book.

I experienced my own moments of intermission as I read distressingly real passages: “[I am living, forgetting how to survive].” I think about a passage like that and I find myself thinking about a typical morning when I wake up. I roll over, look at my cell phone. It’s 8 AM. I check Facebook. Someone has shared a link to a video advertising a suit that will allegedly help our future-dead bodies decompose more efficiently to feed mushrooms. The folks selling the suit try to make you feel worried for when a time will come when you have to expensively bury a loved one or expensively cremate a loved one. But it’s not like they’re just giving away these decomposition-friendlier suits. The suits are still supposed to cost around $999. It’s perfect strangers still wanting money for my death. I’m forced to still view my death as a lifetime investment. Death is a kind of money, and Moments of Intermission is the kind of book that will remind you of that. Which might mean that this book isn’t for everyone. There were times when I thought of it as somewhat pornographic (“Fuck me until I can’t tell where I end and you begin”), but also subtly critical of pornography with its various associations of smell:

-his father’s vintage collection of hustler and playboy
-paint thinner
-permanent marker

and the lasting effects:

I touch myself and mold myself.

The walls talk. I can talk back, though.

Sometimes darkly funny, sometimes demented, Moments of Intermission is just what it sounds like. It’s not necessarily a quick read. It’s obstacles as opposed to pages. And if it’s not for you, it turns out there’s a note at the beginning of the book: “Any part of this book may be torn apart, pissed on, set on fire, or utilized in any form, by any means, with or without prior permission in writing from the publishers.”
Paul Cunningham (b. 1989) is the author of a chapbook of poems called GOAL/TENDER MEAT/TENDER (horse less press, 2015) and he is the translator of two chapbooks by Swedish author, playwright, and video artist Sara Tuss Efrik: Automanias: Selected Poems (winner of the 2015 Goodmorning Menagerie Chapbook-in-Translation Contest) and The Night’s Belly (Toad Press, Fall 2016). He is a contributing editor to Fanzine and his writing can be found in Fireflies, Bat City Review, LIT, Tarpaulin Sky, Spork, DIAGRAM, and others. His poem-films have appeared in Public Pool, MAKE Magazine Lit & Luz Festival, Seattle’s INCA: The Institute for New Connotative Action, the Museo Universitario del Chopo in Mexico City, and Kastratet. He holds a M.F.A. from the University of Notre Dame.

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