Zachary Schomburg is the author of The Man Suit and Scary, No Scary. He co-edits Octopus Magazine and Octopus Books. He lives in Portland, Oregon.
"Schomburg is possibly the man who will save poetry for all of those readers who are about to give up on the genre. Scary No Scary is both funny and ridiculously original. A playful, mournful, and sometimes sweet collection full of fantastic images and odd dialogue."
"The souls of these poems have been put into them backwards. They unapologetically wear their wings on their chest, and all your hungry reading will not 'push / those wings / through / to the other side.'"
In fact, for the purposes of this metaphor, it is a Hostess cupcake. Out of the package, it presents itself as a gaudy, misshapen darkness, but it smells great and goes well with a cup of coffee. Its ingredients have familiar names, but it’s only a “cupcake” insofar as it invents its own vocabulary out of words we already know.
The collection is appended by an index of subjects, beginning with “Bats” and ending with “World, the.” The index serves as a catalog of recurring images and scenarios that aggregate layers of intrigue as the book progresses, as Schomburg constructs new worlds out of raw memory.
These worlds are bound by their own rules. The chair age precedes the table age, and so there is no table setting; the pond is inescapable with only one paddle; if there is a black hole present, someone will be pushed in without the slightest hesitation.
Scary, No Scary may be read either way. Schomburg’s verse is always playful, and always deadly serious: “If we stand still long enough / a gigantic meteorite / will crash into our skulls and kill us.”
The paperback edition of Scary, No Scary has a single pitch-black page inside the front cover and immediately before the back cover, and the title poem invites the reader into a haunted house. The poems inside speak to intense loneliness, violence, and destruction, but they are also about love, simple kindness, and building boats out of eyelashes. The oppressive black exterior belies the complex nature of the white cream filling: there is careful nuance to the undeniably alluring flavor at the center of this foreboding cupcake.
A collection of quirky, surreal poems is fine. A collection of surreal poems as sincere, clever, and modest as these is remarkable. In three sections, Schomburg demonstrates his deft mastery of the well-wrought lyric sequence. The first time you see a hummingbird or a black hole, it’s charming. The second time, these images have become touchstones in the midst of a strange mythology unnervingly oblivious to any distinction between the supernatural and the everyday. There is an extent to which anything is possible in these pages, but this strangeness is always tempered by honest-to-god humanity, which is utterly terrifying if you happened to choose “scary.”
Scary, No Scary is a wonderful book to have on your shelf, and an even better book to pull off and read while the spirits of the dead are rising from their graves. If you’ve missed a trip to a haunted house this season that’s OK, because this book is better. It’s immediately readable, hilarious and harrowing. It’s surreal and it all makes perfect sense. Read this book. When you do, when the hunched, old man invites you inside and gives you the choice, choose “no scary.” You’ll be glad you did.