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Review: You’ll have fun but your heart will break

By MATTHEW GAVIN

FRANK

Special to Journal

In his innovative new spoken word poetry project, “Slow Dancing with Bigfoot” — a hybrid collaborative album/book scored by the ethereal music of the father/son duo Streaking in Tongues — two-time Upper Peninsula poet laureate Marty Achatz interrogates the parameters of myth and of monster and, in doing so, finds a way to imbue both with such an achingly fragile humanity.

Achatz’s poems manage to tether the innately incantatory to the terrestrial. In other words, they cast spells that at first lift us up, and then ground us. They seduce us with their sense of irreverent humor, before blindsiding us with the gravity and empathy that was always lurking at the center of the humor.

These poems interrogate the overlaps and disconnects between Bigfoot and the human beings who so desperately needed to invent Bigfoot, to use Bigfoot to make sense of their own stories. In this way, everything that is monstrous is also human, and everything that is human is also monstrous. Oftentimes, in Achatz’s poems, Bigfoot exhibits a greater capacity for love and generosity than do the humans who have conjured the myth. Bigfoot serves as a lens through which Achatz can not only examine feelings of estrangement and loneliness, but also indict humanity for its trespasses on the natural world, and on each other.

These poems wear disguises in order to strip us of our own. They put on make-up and wigs, only to take our make-up and wigs off. They busk, even though they don’t need the money. They know weird and delicious things about the recesses of our hearts (the corporeal and metaphorical ones), and the intertwined beauty and monstrosity — real and invented — lurking there. They know about Bigfoot’s best kept secrets, the ways in which Bigfoot soothes his broken-hearted daughter, and what sort of spouse he would make, and where and why he would vacation. But these poems also know about the refuge Bigfoot must take in the natural world, immersing his melancholy and “other-ness” amid such miraculous things as erotically-inclined pigs, butterfly feet, wishful elephants, and epicurean catfish.

In this way, these poems are magic tricks — exhilarating and bewildering, so much fun, even as they’re busy breaking our hearts. The book manages to be timely and timeless all at once, muddying the edges that separate historical and current events, the human and animal kingdoms, story and reality.

How deliciously multitudinous these poems are! They are fairy tales, and instructionals for living, for knowing the parts of ourselves we are compelled to mis-label as true; or an occasion for a party wherein we get to eat all of the cheese and all of the good olives; or an all-inclusive psychotherapeutic resort wherein we get to be both doctor and patient, where we get to play with methods humanistic and expressive, insightful and swaggery, postmodern and transpersonal.

The music communicates so wonderfully with the work, conversing with the content, and ushering it into a more impressionistic space. One can almost imagine that we are listening to the sonics of Bigfoot’s world — the wild insects and birds and fish that breathe in that liminal space in between dream and waking life, our world and the mythological one. What odd and delicious whispers!

Yes, these poems, in conversation with the accompanying music, dare to twine and untwine the animal-animal with the human-animal, addressing each in the context of a spiritual refinement of consciousness.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Matthew Gavin Frank’s latest nonfiction book, “Flight of the Diamond Smugglers” (2021) is about, among other things, the ways in which carrier pigeons are used by diamond smuggling rings. He is also the author of the nonfiction books, “The Mad Feast: An Ecstatic Tour Through America’s Food” (a Staff Pick by The Paris Review, and a Best Book of 2015 selection by Ploughshares, The Millions, and Paste Magazine), “Preparing the Ghost: An Essay Concerning the Giant Squid and Its First Photographer” (a New York Times Editors’ Choice, an NPR Notable Book, and a New Yorker Book to Watch Out For) “Pot Farm” and “Barolo”; the poetry books “The Morrow Plots,” “Warranty in Zulu” and  “Sagittarius Agitprop” and two chapbooks. He persevered through the past year-and-a-half via the occasional one-handed cartwheel in his mind.

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