Today’s poetry offering is a beautiful chapbook by Donald Illich titled The Art of Dissolving (Finishing Line Press, 2016).
The cover features a photograph of light-struck clouds with the title text fading into them. It’s a lovely design, and the book has that great matte cover stock that feels so nice to the touch. In this case, the texture of the cover feels kind of cloudy, making it a very satisfying book to hold.
Illich’s poems have a surreal quality—a house on stilts gets up and runs away in “House,” and Illich writes, “I chased after it, / begging that we’d change, lay a fresh / coat of paint every year / ensure a roof / that would protect it from anything falling.”
The strangeness continues with the next poem, which I liked best of all the offerings in The Art of Dissolving. Titled “All That Happened,” the poem recounts a series of events that “began when I was small, / ended when I was much larger.” Illich writes, “Yesterday I was a sliver, / then I became the moon.”
In between there were treasure
chests, eyeballs, spaceships.
Ghoss and pickled eggs.
In between there were martinis
and olives. Totalities, existents.
I could remember what happened.
I could never recall it at all.
It’s a strange progression, and the illogic of the ending is such a nice twist.
The title poem occurs near the end of the chap, and it deserves the attention the title shines on it in this setting. The poem begins by mentioning Alka-Seltzers, “those speckled pills / splashing into a glass like bank robbers // falling from a cliff.” Writes Illich,
When it’s time to be devoured
you can walk away from your job,
hear those plops in your mind as you
walk around with your personal box
of effects, feel your legs, stomach,
chest start to explode with fizz,
while your head readies itself to drop,
lose all the thoughts you ever had.
The poem concludes that we dissolve “so the world can drink you quicker.” It’s a nice insight here, and I recommend this small but satisfying collection.
An interview with Donald Illich …
What did you want to be when you grew up, and why?
Initially in early childhood I wanted to be a botanist or a fireman. I think I wished to be a botanist because in kindergarten we did a project with pots and seeds. I liked watching things grow. I have no idea about the fireman choice, but pretty soon, by the time I was eight, I hoped to become a writer. I wrote stories all the time, making up sci-fi exploration epics with a hero named John Fanoe. I enjoyed writing, because I was an introverted kid who lived in his imagination.
What is the very best word in this collection? Explain.
The word “studded” in the line “traffic lights studded your bones.” It's my favorite word in my chapbook, in the poem “Road, Sky,” because it makes the image visceral and visual; you can imagine red, green, and yellow light piercing skin. It's also a weird and cool word to unexpectedly connect traffic lights and bones.
Describe your worst poetic habit.
I feel like I stay with line lengths that are too often the same within the poem; that’s true of many of the poems in The Art of Dissolving. I would like to be looser in my composition, with more “air” in the lines. Sometimes trying something different can feel like putting on a designer jacket, that’s really too hip and stylish. Often, I’d rather go out in a coat that fits well and is comfortable.
It’s time someone put out an anthology of poems about _____:
Geeky pursuits in childhood/adolescence. It could cover Dungeons and Dragons, comic books, sci-fi movies, manga, knitting, and many other hobbies. I’m not sure that poetry itself would count as one, but maybe.
It’s your poetic obituary! Finish it up, but not with your bio—finish it with an essential statement about your poetry.
His poetry attempted to crack the world a little and let in a sliver of imagination.
Donald Illich’s poetry has appeared in literary journals such as The Iowa Review, LIT, Nimrod, Passages North, Rattle, and Sixth Finch. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and received a scholarship from the Nebraska Summer Writers Conference. Gold Wake Press named his full-length manuscript a finalist during their 2015 open reading. He lives in Maryland.