C. Russell Price's 'Apocalypse Poems'

  • by Mark William Norby
  • Tuesday July 5, 2022
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poet C. Russell Price
poet C. Russell Price

Appalachian genderqueer punk writer C. Russell Price's first full-length poetry collection, "Oh, you thought this was a date?!: Apocalypse Poems" imagines a world of broken objects, clouds infused with black smoke and rivers that drain blood out to a far southern tributary.

Composed of poems exploring the complexities of identity and the individual act of stepping into one's distinct personhood, Price's art is coupled with internal forces of emotional instability loitering at the edge of an imagined end-time. Experiments in this collection create a singular linguistic fashion that is both attention-grabbing and obscure without being unimaginable.

Originally from Glade Spring, Virginia, Price now lives in Chicago and is a Lambda Fellow in Poetry. Price has adopted plural pronouns, and demands that the reader enter their verse to become powerful enough to slice through questions of future with answers that initially say "No." In cinematic language and scenes bathed in dark humor and resilience, the surreal is familiar and grief is a national pastime. Their answers gamble with certainty, an apocalypse personal to each of us but universal in its meaning.

At the opening of sequential sections, the book repeatedly returns to a title word: "Cage" for one example; underneath that they set up a suggested soundtrack: "I can't stand the rain"; followed by the repeating header, "Ritual."


Grow something edible from seed;

at harvest, let it rot.

Write an apology letter.

Dead-eye yourself in a mirror,

whisper the name of everyone

who has wronged you

and who has loved you

and who has done both.

Turn every faucet on.

Burn the letter. Write it again, but better.

"Ritual" works in a way that benefits a genderqueer individual redefining their life on their own behalf and for their own survival. In the process, they inspire other readers and writers to find their own process of self-revelation. Ritual then is essential, as it is for understanding the different stages of life we pass through in order to contextualize our lives. After the three staging effects a series of poems proceed.

The collection pulses with beats that follow destruction whether human or natural, with the author's cinematic approach to language that lends itself to scenes that breath and are on full display with dark humor and a no-holds-barred approach to the surreal and familiar — "Grief is a national pastime."

There is energy in the poems, and confusion — emotions are felt here, frenetic. "These poems are not for pearl clutchers." They are for those who have already felt their own private apocalypse, have felt and are still feeling the reality of now both decentering and opportunity making. Does the individual survive? Will we survive?

Should you buy this book? You should buy it for lines like, "Honey suckle from my furried tit since there's a bad moon rising and I hear hurricanes blowing" and "You wanted the end to have been fireworks in February, you wanted it to be all watercolor run-off. The tornado named Samantha comes into the bar and kisses you and slams her purse of broken men beside me."

If what you seek is a unique angle on the poetic form not before seen, and on a new series of components that supersede the verse which Price composed by beginning each section in arrangements like an encyclopedia or dictionary that sets up the reader to engage with what is more important —that contained in the author's yearnings and desires held in lines of verse — then yes.

What is intended by their method is the establishment of environments of feeling that can only be understood by consuming Price's own life, one that was consumed by their book and is now an invitation extended for readers and writers to question "Oh, you thought this was a date?!" in order to begin the new days ahead unbounded by the mad world.

Price arrives at an unknowing place, stating, "When I call him after a proper cry in the office supply closet, he asks what is drowning me today, as if memory is a growing leak, as if he could offer some Oprah-level shit. Without a doubt, I say that in my family there was a Klansmen."

'Oh, you thought this was a date?!: Apocalypse Poems' by C. Russell Price, TriQuarterly, an imprint of Northwestern University Press. $16. nupress.northwestern.edu

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