Noel Sloboda’s second book of poems is a stout and elegant volume. Published by Buffalo-based press Sunnyoutside, and illustrated with intricate and evocative linocuts by Marc Snyder, the book is home to over thirty poems and short pieces of prose which range in scope from a short story in which a childhood prank takes a surreal turn to a poem written from the perspective of Grendel’s long-suffering wife.
Reading Our Rarer Monsters is an enjoyably varied experience. You can go from peaceable musings on strangers glimpsed from a window to emotionally-charged stories about dating a mythical half-lion. Each and every piece in the collection is meticulously well-crafted, and none of them are longer that about three pages. Being so short their ends come quickly, but always leave just enough lingering in the air to create a lasting emotional resonance.
Take the poem “Weasels” for example. It is, by my count, just eight lines long, but packed into those slender stanzas is a world of atmosphere and blood. “Instructions For My Stunt Double”, though a few words longer, is equally tightly-packed, hinting at a world and emotions much bigger than itself. Sloboda always knows just the right note, the right angle. These tiny stories have sharpened edges.
The majority of these pieces are shot through with myth and legend, though in amongst the strange magic you will come across the occasional fragment of the jarringly mundane. It’s an odd experience to flip the page on a poem about Baba Yaga and find a story that takes place in a fraternity house, but the proximity of these two different worlds has the effect of imbuing the mundane with a sense of magic, as though there’s something hiding just under the surface.
The pieces are short, but provided in abundance, and so despite the slimness of each individual offering the collection has real substance. Especially so because of how finely everything is crafted – even the prose feels as sculpted as poetry, and so you are compelled to pause a while between each piece to think and digest.
Our Rarer Monsters is available in paperback and ebook form from Sunnyoutside – and you can check out the poem’s that Noel has published in Neon (some of which are reprinted in the book) by going here.
Christopher Frost is a writer from the North of England. He works as a copywriter for a charity, and in his spare time writes book reviews.