By James H Duncan
Enjoy Oblivion (Epic Rites Press) starts off on the same idea that haunts my own private thoughts and motivations, that the end lurks, and it has nothing for us, no second act, no magical rebirth, and yet we fill our lives with these hopes and dreams that there’s some magical playground that continues with all we have here in this world. From what I read here, Carstens is telling us that these wasteful dreams are perhaps more terrifying than the nothingness that waits.
The poems that follow form a sort of “see, I told you” dirge, a parade of examples of how our innate feeling of invincibility and our financial comforts cannot save us when it counts—a good damn lesson for all of us to learn. Death is a constant, more so than taxes—the old joke that hasn’t been funny or accurate in generations. Carstens has learned this in hospitals, funeral homes, cemeteries, isolated rooms alone thinking back on friends and loved ones. He even calls out the platitudes of pop stars and artists, telling Lennon and McCartney just how wrong they are about love being all you need. Sometimes you need just a bit more plasma, a faster ambulance, a jammed gun, a heart that had a few more beats, just a little more luck, but all too often we don’t have any of that. And the end comes for us all anyway, no matter what.
It may be a place we don’t want to dwell as readers, but as humans it is ground we need to cover and re-cover if we’re going to move through the mist of our own future with any sense of what it means to truly live—something we can only know when it is buttressed against the stark realities of death. The darkness making the light so bright, the valley making the mountains so high. It may be a mournful collection but you walk away feeling a sense of…well…of needing to get off your ass and live. If that’s all that comes from this book, it’s already more vital than 90% of the “bestsellers” hitting this market this year.
Included with the poems is the haunting yet playful morbidity of Janne Karlsson’s artwork, a perfect compliment to Carstens’ words. They’re sad round-faced creatures, sometimes stitched up, sometimes bruised and battered, but always putting into pictures that ragged members of Carstens’ parade.
His artwork is also included in Only The Dead, another Carstens book from Svensk Apache Press. This one is less a poetry chapbook and more an artistic collaboration, almost like a short graphic novel, again reminding us how the living complain about things like birthdays, aches and pains, and work, while the dead celebrate and embrace every kiss, breath, and sunrise above the grass—only the dead know the true joy it is to be alive. There’s much more artwork here and it plays perfectly with the quick shots and jabs Carstens provides, making for perhaps an even more effective message than Enjoy Oblivion. But they both serve a damn good purpose in their own right and have a powerful message—Live Today, Tomorrow Never Comes.
You can find Carstens' books here: http://www.wolfgangcarstens.com/