Book Review: Allegorical Beasts by Leo Schulz

It’s oft said – not least of all by me – that it’s important to learn the rules before breaking them. Otherwise, it’s not subversion, but plain ignorance. On reading the sonnet sequence that occupies the first half of Leo Schulz’ Allegorical Beasts, it’s clearly apparent that the author knows his way around a sonnet.

That Schulz has actually produced a sonnet sequence is in itself extremely telling: in vogue briefly during the Elizabethan period, it’s hardly the verse form of choice for contemporary poets. Not that the forty-five poems that comprise ‘Sonnets of the Sea’ contain any half-arsed doggerel, sixth-form scribblings self-consciously imitating the Petrarchan or Shakespearean form: this is sonneteering 21st century style, which dispenses with the fussy rhyme scheme and the restrictive metrical dictates of old convention to produce a series of poems that pack some real punch. Schulz certainly doesn’t dress things up in draperies of poetic euphemism. Yet at the same time, ‘Sonnets of the Sea’ does follow the principles of thematic unity, and fills the lines with magnificent imagery, some contemporary, some timeless, and succeeds in doing so without being overtly self-conscious or revelling in the author’s own cleverness, a feat also achieved in the three-part ‘Imitation of Dante.’

If ‘The Devil Writes to a Woman Who Loves Him,’ the first of the three prose pieces, seems a little weak despite its twisted psychology and cunningly-devised scenario, it’s only because it’s overshadowed by the final story, ‘Love: A Confession’. The direct, first-person narrative drags the reader through the emotional wringer as the speaker (who I would hate to align with the author, although its raw intensity is so specific and detailed it makes it more than just a little tempting) picks over the scabs of a defunct relationship. Occasionally amusing, always observed and detailed with a stunning precision, the story is delivered with a vivid sense of tormented humanity, making t one of the most engaging short stories I’ve read in a while.

‘Allegorical Beasts’ is an intense and intelligently-written book that marks Schulz as a unique and remarkable literary voice.

Allegorical Beasts is out now on Königreich Böhmen and is available via Amazon.




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Review: Black-Listed Thoughts by Mike Meraz (Propaganda Press, 2011)

I like reading, and would fairly describe myself as an avid reader. However, I often wish I had the time to read more. As we all know, time is one of the rarest commodities in today’s insanely hectic society, and while films and music offer instant gratification, the written word requires patience and mental engagement. It’s long struck me as odd, then, that the majority of bestsellers are whopping great 500+ page doorstops (that most of them are complete pap is, naturally, less surprising). Still, contra to the trend, and more in keeping with people’s busy lifestyles, the rise of flash fiction seems entirely appropriate, and short stories have been enjoying a welcome renaissance in recent years. And now, Propaganda Press have started doing a line in something truly innovative, the microbook.

Mike Meraz’s Black-Listed Thoughts is a compendium of pithy bon mots, one-liners, ponderences, reflections and scathing put-downs that’s perfect for dipping into, although just as easily devoured in a single short sitting. There are words of wisdom, words of encouragement, and words that are against wisdom and, well, pretty much anything else. By turns cynical and revelatory, Meraz is never less than sharp in his delivery. I found myself nodding in agreement, before turning the page and laughing heartily: Black-Listed Thoughts is a book for our schizophrenic modern age. A quick read though it is, this wallet-sized tome provides plenty to chew on and leaves a long aftertaste.

It might not be big, but it’s definitely clever enough.

Black-Listed Thoughts is out now on Propaganda Press.




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