Saturday, June 13, 2009

Book Review: "Separate Destinations" by Kendall Evans and David C. Kopaska-Merkel

More than 250 poems
by Kendall Evans have appeared in numerous sf, fantasy and horror publications. He is the author of two chapbook-length poems, "In Deepspace Shadows" and "I Feel So Schizophrenic, The Starship's Aft-Brain Said." He is now at work on his own ring cycle of 4 connected chapbooks. In 2006 he and David C. Kopaska-Merkel shared a Rhysling Award for the best sf poem of the year (long poem category) for their collaborative poem, "The Tin Men".

David C. Kopaska-Merkel is the editor and publisher of Dreams and Nightmares magazine, and was for six years the editor of Star*Line, the journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Fourteen previous chapbooks and hundreds of poems and short stories have been published in dozens of venues since the early 1980s. David lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, with 2 artists, 3 cats, 1 dog, 2 bunnies, and thousands of books.

The two poets recently published a collaborative chapbook titled "Separate Destinations" on D+66 Books. It is a collection of surreal science fiction poems, most of which carry a dark undertone, if not clear horrific intentions.

What most readers look for in a collaborative book is one of two things. Either the poets enter into a back and forth conversation, where each voice is firmly establish as separate from the other, or that the two voices are inseparable, and the work stands as a complete whole. This later style is what Kopaska-Merkl and Evans aim for, and acheive. This sort of intense collaboration can produce a unique voice, distinct from the voice of either individual poet, and as no one voice stands out as stronger than the other in these poems, and this book could easily be read as the work of one poet instead of two, the collaboration is complete and successful.

The poems themselves vary in success. Where the images and lines are strong, they clearly work, despite the surreal combination of images piled against each other, such as:

"Mice jump,
and maybe they’ve jumped all the way
out of this moment, this picture,
into the gullets of feral cats,
into the pages of photocopied pamphlets,
into the all-devouring storm of yesterday"

from the poem "VARIATIONS ON THE SONGS OF SERAPHIM DOWNLOADED TO A HYBRID MEDIUM," or the more straight forward

"She rolls over and her lips find mine,
her arms my neck, just as if she were
someone real like myself,
but I could trace her name on an eroded tombstone
adrift in autumn leaves that don’t recall her name.
So little of her world remains in our time."


However, many of the poems and lines in the book slipped from these strong images, giving readers the abstract

"My heart asks when I can return to you,
but, alas, my head has no answer:
I am no closer to finding what I came here to
recover, and already
I think in this archaic tongue
(which lacks words for the proper thoughts)
more readily than our own."

also from "PARCHMENT FOUND IN AN ANTIQUE BOOK," or the heavily scientific

"There’s a constellation of computer chips
Surgically implanted at the base of the skull,
Augmenting intelligence and speed."

from the poem "WALKING THE DOG," which ends with the silliness of

"Bathed in the catalytic rays of the Dog Star –
This is one Sirius canine."

When these poems work, they work well, and the voices and narratives are intriguing, from "OF TIME AND THE TEETH OF THE BLACK DOG" in which the narrator assembles the bones of his sister into a door into the realm of "the Black Dog," a bell jar which stands as a metaphor for the readers sense of self-confinement, alienation, even antagonistic madness, to "REEFS," which explores the dreams of voyagers beneath alien stars, in which the sources of evolution is questioned and reexamined, to the title poem, "SEPARATE DESTINATIONS," which explores the lives of two clones, one lamenting and question the death of the other after they both have been exposed to the magnificent beauty and horror of the universe. However, many of the poems are a bit rough around the edges, with shaky lines, abstract or cliche images, and even some iffy line breaks, marking this as an interesting, but uneven, read.


Charles Gramlich said...

I recently read the most amazing poem by these two in the Rhysling anthology. I've never been able to work with anyone this well.

RobinMM said...

Thanks, Josh, for the detailed review. I hope it's OK for me to post this -- since I was the publisher of this chapbook, I'm pretty biased -- but I wanted to mention that it contains some incredible illustrations too (by Angela Mark) and that people can check it out and order copies at


The poet doesn't invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau