Zombie Haiku: Good Poetry For Your... Brains By Ryan Mecum
A brainwavez.org Literary Review

United States of Americaby Jase Luttrell
Posted: 21 October 2009
In: Books > Reviews
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It seems only fitting that brainwavez.org focuses on zombies, as they have an unnatural (or natural) penchant for braaaiins. With that, we present to you the guts, gore, mayhem, and poetic beauty of Zombie Haiku: Good Poetry For Your... Brains.

Zombie Haiku by Ryan MecumZombie Haiku is the first published work from author Ryan Mecum and to say it is inventive, creative, clever, and morbid is an understatement. The overall concept is simple: the world is overcome by a plague that turns people into zombies whenever a zombie bites them or when they die. The format of the work is the author's poetry journal, in which he prefaces that he will keep this journal to record the beauty of the world he witnesses in the form of (English-language) haiku (though this point is debatable - read on). Each page has three poems and describes the beginning of an extremely rough day for the author. Within the first 10 or so pages the author realises that something is very amiss in his world, and is subsequently bitten and transforms into a zombie. What follows is a detailed account of the transformation, in grotesque, disturbing detail. We learn how painful the transformation is, how strange it feels to bleed but feel stronger, and what it is like to eat other people (in case you were wondering). We are also informed of the insatiable and predictable hunger for human brains, and the eventual demise of the author, and ultimately how his journal is passed off to another character named Chris Lynch. In addition to the author's beautiful poetry in the first few pages, Chris Lynch includes his own writings in the margins, explaining that he has found this journal, that he is trapped in an airport bathroom, and that he will soon begin his own transformation, making the book a cyclical journey of the zombie transformation.

The story subscribes to many of the typical and expected ideas about zombies: they have a hunger for brains, they are uncoordinated, the "virus" is transmitted through biting or death, and that the zombies themselves are dimwitted but incapable of dying. One piece of zombie lore that is abandoned is the idea that a previously dead person does not become a zombie and rises from the grave. Instead, the reader learns that "reanimation // would be much more difficult // inside a coffin", suggesting that the previously dead do become zombies but they don't get too far if they are confined. This gives the book a slight bit of credibility, as I find it a little ridiculous to have the possibility of Michael Jackson crawling out of his grave and attempting to eat people. The book doesn't advance the mythology of zombies, except, of course, the author's ability and dexterity to maintain a journal throughout his experience (especially after losing many fingers in the scramble to attack and eat other humans). This fact is a double-edged sword for Zombie Haiku: the zombies are dumb and uncoordinated but the reader is expected to suspend disbelief enough to accept the fact that the author is a zombie, able to write (with perfect punctuation and spelling), carry a journal all over the place, and, more importantly, maintain the rigid structural constraints of haiku. In my living state I sometimes have to count the syllables on my fingers when writing a haiku. How a zombie is able to manage this feat is either incredible for his sake or is indicative of my intelligence (I'll let you decide). Though the poems maintain the rigidity of the 5/7/5 syllable format and a few include a season word, they more closely resemble senryū , because the poems are dark and focus on the human (or zombie) condition. It's a bit of a misnomer that the book is Zombie Haiku, but I presume Zombie Senryū, though it rhymes, is less catchy and accessible to the English-language audience.

If you are at all concerned that this is a short book with three poems per page and that's all, you will be sorely mistaken. The real joy and creative effort is found in the graphic design, photography, and artwork of the journal. Again, the reader is asked to suspend disbelief because there are multiple Polaroid-like shots of zombies, maggots, and other gross objects (how the hell did a zombie carry a Polaroid camera, and write in a journal, while simultaneously hunting down people?). Regardless, the photography is brilliant: numerous models and/or actors were hired for the project, dressed up as zombies, and shot using a variety of lenses, lighting, and effects that lend themselves to the realism of the storyline. Numerous pages include life-like smatterings of blood, strands of hair, moths, duct tape, and even bile. At one point, I really thought there was a strand of hair on the page, and I found myself trying to brush it away.

Zombie Haiku by Ryan Mecum pages 48-49

Because of the book's small size and relatively cheap price it makes for a great book to read while travelling, and makes a great gift for someone who truly appreciates the macabre. Without spoiling the storyline, I'd like to present a few, but certainly not all of the gory, inventive poems to entice you to purchase Zombie Haiku:

For a truly irreverent (and mildly disrespectful example), there's this gem:

It is hard to tell
Who is food and who isn't
In the nursing home

For a description of what it's like to transform into a zombie (in case you feel as though you need to self diagnose):

My lungs slow and stop
And I can't find my heartbeat
But I'm still hungry

For a good laugh (and a sizeable amount of shame to follow for those who do), there's this bit of twisted beauty:

The crying baby
Reminds me of fast food meals
With a prize inside

There are definite moments that made me cringe and when I first read Zombie Haiku I was sitting in a coffee shop and actually felt sick to my stomach, especially when reading about the author's experiences with his mother. It's best to just let your imagination run wild but I promise that readers will be surprised at the juxtaposition of creativity and gory detail. I have experienced these feelings each time I've read the book, so it's unlikely that a reader will become desensitised. Still, it's important to mention that if you are easily unnerved, have a weak stomach, or are easily grossed out, it goes without saying that this book is not for you. But if you appreciate art, simple and effective English-language haiku (and/or senryū, depending on your point of view), and zombie culture, this book is definitely something to add to your collection.

Zombie Haiku by Ryan Mecum pages 98-99

Zombie Haiku is available from leading book stores and online retailers, including Kalahari.net, Amazon.com, and Amazon.co.uk.

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Rating: 9/10

Key Facts (Review Copy)
Title: Zombie Haiku: Good Poetry For Your... Brains
Author: Ryan Mecum
ISBN/EAN: 9781600610707
Edition: First
Year: 2008 (14 July 2008)
Format: Softcover, full colour, with illustrations
Pages: 160
Dimensions: 126x178x11mm (WxHxD)
Genre/Keywords: horror, poetry, humour, fiction

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