Shanna Compton’s Brink is part one of a two part poetry collection: Brink and The Seam. Both embody the realm of speculative poetry with their focus on fantastic, science fiction themes. In an interview, Compton describes Brink as “before”and The Seam as “after.” Presumably, with the themes alluded to in Brink, we can infer that this means pre-apocalypse and post apocalypse poetry. In Brink, Compton flirts with disaster on every page, constantly teetering on the edge of complete chaos and devastation.
Compton, who has authored several full length poetry collections and chapbooks including For Girls & Others and Down Spooky, mixes the mundane alongside the fantastic in this collection. Mars and other planets are referenced in medias res of a couple’s arguments, shoplifting, and the common aches for adoration and perfection within the human condition. In this way, the poems suggest a futuristic landscape while also seeming so familiar that they hint towards the anxiety of a doomed future being much nearer than we would like to conceive. In ‘Panoramic View,’ Compton writes:
Last week Mars suddenly got a lot closer.
It used to be the place we’d throw out
as impossible, utterly unreachable, so red
and foreign and sere. Not anymore….
It’s bluer than I thought, attained. Like most things
I wish we could take back.
Here is a prime example of how Compton can mingle the otherworldly alongside the common stings of this world. The inhuman and the human reflect upon each other through warped telescopes, revealing all sorts of surprises and similarities.
Additionally, these poems carry a sense of dread and burden throughout, a heavy notion that the end is near. However, this apocalypse comes not from planetary collision or otherworldy trauma, but instead through a seemingly doomed domestic relationship continually referred to in the book. These poems stood out as the strongest in the collection, and they are also more chilling than any of the futuristic or science fiction moments. For instance, in ‘The Argument,’ Compton chronicles a couple watching a crisis detailed on television:
She thinks: Please honey, let’s not keep score.
We both need sleep. It’s not as if we tied
a triple knot in the line our lives will take.
He writes: Two hundred arguments have come before.
One thing I love about speculative poetry is its ability to critique and reveal the real world rather than escape it. The science fiction poems mingled with romance in Compton’s collection showcase a new, devastating sort of horror that feels uncomfortably familiar. Here’s another favorite of mine, from one of the poems in the sequence titled ‘The Deeps’
Here are some of the things they’ve said:
I feel alone even when you are here.
I feel better when you are gone.
I feel the wind has come into the house
because you invited it. I feel myself unraveling
except for this one thick knot I think
you’re at the middle of.
These stoically stated observations feel so precise and accurate: they are like the surgeon’s tiny scalpel peeling back layers of the complicated and revolting human heart.
Brink has many merits, and it offers a thrill ride of other worldly experiences, with all the terror and amusement of a circus side show. My only critique of the collection is that the four sections of the book seem so different that they lack cohesion. The shifts between them felt abrupt, and I had a hard time making parallels between each section. At times, the poems felt haphazardly placed or randomly pieced together. Also, this sense of randomness made many of the poems come off as obtuse; however, I remain on the fence about whether this choice works well for the collection or not. On the one hand, this added to the overall sense of chaos and disorder, but on the other, it felt akin to being confronted with a difficult jigsaw puzzle. Perhaps that was the point. Or perhaps part two of this collection The Seam will complete the distorted panorama that Brink started.
Regardless, Compton has a strong sense of humor in these poems. Despite the impending doom, irony is never lost on the speakers. In ‘Fabulous Fake,’ she writes:
And that, friends, is when I knew
the ardor I’d claimed was a mere smattering.
I am newly engorged with boner-hard love.
I want to keep all the tastes discrete
So only a little goes on my tongue at a time.
These poems will teach you how to chuckle at devastation as much as they will teach you to fear it.
Anne Champion is the author of Reluctant Mistress (Gold Wake Press, 2013). Her poems have appeared in Pank Magazine, The Comstock Review, Thrush Poetry Journal, Poetry Quarterly, Cider Press Review, The Aurorean, and elsewhere. She was a recipient of the Academy of American Poet’s Prize, a Pushcart Prize nominee, a St. Botolph Emerging Writer’s Grant nominee, and a Squaw Valley Community of Writers Poetry Workshop participant. She holds degrees in Behavioral Psychology and Creative Writing from Western Michigan University and received her MFA in Poetry from Emerson College. She currently teaches writing and literature at Emerson College, Wheelock College, and Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Boston, MA. She also serves as a poetry reader for Ploughshares. Find her online at http://anne-champion.com