A Review of Cutting Eyes from Ghosts, by Ariana D. Den Bleyker
Chapbook connoisseurs and those who like lyrical, atmospheric poems should appreciate Cutting Eyes from Ghosts by Ariana D. Den Bleyker, a new chapbook from Blood Pudding Press. Both the poems themselves and the physical chapbook are deliciously spooky; contents and packaging mirror each other perfectly. Cutting Eyes from Ghosts is a work of art and highly collectible.
In Cutting Eyes from Ghosts, Ariana D. Den Bleyker creates a haunted atmosphere by delicately balancing elements of the morbid, the strange beauty of the dead and their familiars, and the bittersweet joy of being alive despite these other elements.
Den Bleyker aims straight for our hearts in her poems and finds the grave hidden there, examining it with morbid fascination. She writes: “[S]tare into the wrecked blue death” (“You Sleep & in the Darkness Death Growls”). In “Weaving Silk and Skin, We Sing of Our Thirst,” it’s raining outside, but “[i]nside: the room suddenly rich; the dark talks to the dead.” Did you know that “[i]f we’re quiet & listen, we can hear the dead” (“To Live in the Body Like a Room”)? We believe the speaker.
The dead are an obsession in Cutting Eyes from Ghosts. The speaker says, “Somewhere the dead are waiting— / violins in the vast blackness between stars” (“Beyond Skin, a Room to Feel Alone”). In the same poem, Den Bleyker compares the dead to “birds in our bellies” and advises the reader to “[h]ide & gnaw yourself.” Dealing with the dead, her advice is to “[c]lean the dirt & hide the smell” (“To Live in the Body like a Room”).
Although this is a chapbook obsessed with death and black skies, we end up feeling uplifted by Cutting Eyes from Ghosts. Den Bleyker’s poetry treats the human condition with sympathy and kindness: “Our bodies climb, move, slant downward, / lost beneath stars expanding outward…” (“Driving from the Dark”). “[S]uddenly you are Peter Pan: / Touch me; we can fly” (“Below Black Skies, Heavy Clouds Follow as Though with Legs”).The speaker in “We Come Back Brighter & Louder” advises, “Fold in your wings. / Hold hands a little longer.”
For Den Bleyker, we are fragile, mortal creatures one step away from death and decay. Like in Margaret Atwood’s short story “Happy Endings” where the narrator insists there is only one legitimate ending to any story, i.e., “John and Mary die. John and Mary die. John and Mary die,” Den Bleyker, too, insists on our human mortality, cautioning, “We’ve forgotten how to die. / Bodies breathe through bones—their sounds, voices breaking. // (Air first to come, last to go)…”
Overall, the poems in Cutting Eyes from Ghosts are intensely lyrical, combining haunting moods, brilliant metaphors, and striking imagery. These poems stand up to multiple reads. They beg to be savored.
The physical chapbook Cutting Eyes from Ghosts published by Blood Pudding Press is a work of art that has to be experienced to be properly appreciated. Handmade, it’s special for its cover art, paper, and feathers. The cover art, a modified version of Wings by Elle Couerblanc, uses colors of brown, black, and gray to depict a young human woman from the rear; from her mid-back protrudes a pair of wings—leaf-like brown with black borders—resembling insect wings. Like the poems in Cutting Eyes from Ghosts, the woman is strangely beautiful, capturing the mood of the book and complementing the poems. Blood Pudding Press printed the chapbook Cutting Eyes from Ghosts using heavy-weight cream-with-a-hint-of-orange marbled paper. It is a pleasure to look at and feel the parchment-like pages. The chapbook is of the fold-over type, but instead of using staples, Blood Pudding Press uses rope-like, fluffy, black faux feathers—so apropos. Two feathery ropes trail from the chapbook’s spine like miniature black boas worn at an old-fashioned funeral.
The chapbook Cutting Eyes from Ghosts by Ariana D. Den Bleyker from Blood Pudding Press is a one-of-a-kind gem. As Den Bleyker writes in “Echoes Telling Truths We Take for Sadness,” “The stars shiver in the distance. // Watch the flowers grow fat & climb them. / This is poetry—.” Yes, this is poetry.