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Recommendation – “Vacationland,” Ander Monson

I became engrossed with Ander Monson’s writing style after reading his book of fiction, Other Electricities.  Seeing that he had written poetry as well, I immediately went out and bought his collection of poetry, titled Vacationland.  Monson’s work is not only experimental, but abrasive and haunting.  In Vacationland, Monson beautifully laments the coldness of a Michigan winter and the people lost through the frozen ice of the lakes.  Drawing on characters from his fiction work, OE, Monson’s collection pervasively recreates the ice and snow of the uppermost parts of Michigan’s peninsula, bringing readers glimpses of remorse, sorrow, weather, and love scattered throughout his barrage of poetry.

Monson has a way of playing with form; in “Answers To Examination Questions,” he writes an evocative poem in test answers;

“(1) yes (2) the colossus (3) a bloodless cross-ice pass

(4) apex & crux (5) late night shift with fear of hold-up

(6) one-fourth (7) feel loved, regardless of what your

father says (8) related to your difficulties with girls (9)

pine resin on wood (10) ‘Take me home tonight'”

Monson intersperses seemingly straight-forward exam answers with tiny personal insights to the narrator’s struggles with the death “of Liz my X my melting point” (from “Propriety Elegy”).  Through pieces, readers can almost recreate the narrator’s entire relationship with Liz, just with a few scattered thoughts and memories put together in test answers after her death.  In another experiment, Monson writes several poems in outline form, complete with numbered bullets.  Monson’s poetry seems almost to bubble over onto the page straight from his mind – fragmented, intense, and almost unfiltered.  His poetry is un-streamed consciousness.

Vacationland depicts a Michigan that many are unfamiliar with – stark, icy, and from the eyes of great loss.  The collection is split into three sections, the first two dedicated to two people who went through thin ice, and the last section filled with “less directed elegies and love poems.”  Monson uses his setting of the Michigan Upper Peninsula more as a character itself, filling his pages with motels, mines, frozen lakes, and people.  As an example of the dystopic visions he creates, in “Snow Amnesia,” Monson writes;

“…’NO VACA’ is all it says tonight, its molecules

stirred up, bright like an orange rind

would be if those things burned or could be lit

or strung up like lines of K-Mart lights

and left to dangle after the holidays

and all the tourists have come and gone and gone.”

By using such strong and familiar references and images, Monson takes a small town in Michigan and relates it to anywhere there is loss and finiteness.  He constantly interjects his lamentations with vivid description of setting, creating a complete three-dimensional world that is not only made of ice and snow, but fundamental human issues such as pain, love, and loss.

Monson’s use of juxtaposition is also very jarring.  In “Approximation,” he details a young couple’s death through thin ice alongside images of the prom they had just left, creating a haunting picture of the rapidity of death and loss;

“The coroner’s best guess as to time of death

is sometime in the earliness

before the light has staked its claim

with hammer-blows and useless threats of ice

spilled like perfume across roads.

As for the cause, you know it’s notoriously

iffy – in this case, safe to say, death

by drowning or by impact of the cheek

against the windshield, against the radio dial

which left its mark, or death due

to after-prom excitement – the occasion

marked by streamers in the rafters

and the crowning of the school’s best

heads and shoulders with a tin foil

wrapped, fake-bejeweled band.”

I would recommend Monson’s Vacationland because not only does Monson play with traditional forms of poetry, but he does so with a language so fierce and prominent, it seems as though he is bombarding readers with image after image of his own personal vacationland.  Monson’s poetry connects to reveal the starkness of not only upper Michigan, but of base human emotions.  In my opinion, Monson’s poetry is almost shocking, but in a completely stimulating and new way.  His words are jolts of electricity that course through readers like pinpricks, twisting conventions until they fall apart and he stitches them back together again.

– Ellie