By Cynthia Atkins
Raw, raucous, ominous, redemptive, Micah D. Zevin’s debut collection, Metal, Heavy, sifts through a destroyed civilization’s debris: casts a sharp and vital light through the seemingly unending darkness. A sustained lyrical jeremiad, it calls us to awaken, reflect, revolt, reclaim, restore, moreover, to finally enact justice and realize democracy. Like the musical form it textually inverts, Metal, Heavy is noisy, evocative, grabbing, holding, and inciting.
It is the artist, the poet who can best address the widespread malaise and malfeasance, the disharmonious and destructive forces, who can best cull through and call out, can best dismantle myths and hierarchies. Like the singer in “Tool Poem #3,” Zevin casts the necessary spells:
The singer sings about extinction including us,
That it doesn’t matter if we think we are invincible
or descending into webs of chaos,
because we are not
but it’s dangerous ignorance and
will destroy us.
In the arctic nether regions, the survivalist fantasy,
we must fight polar bears and eat their meat
when we should be working to stop
the ice from melting
not breaking more
so we don’t vanish
and fall into the
Over and over again, Zevin tracks the fractures, limns the myriad griefs and joys of our desperate times. “My wounds have a message,” Zevin writes. “They plead with you to make / top secret friends so that the / contamination can end / all that is out of whack.” The viscerality, the communicability of the wound, pleading as it bleeds.
Like many of the poems in Metal, Heavy, “Personification Extinction Chronicles” contemplates the unthinkable, compelling us to awaken, to pay attention to our shared precarity. Zevin revels in revelation, finds dark humor in the humdrum, stands bewildered, enthralled even, in the reckoning:
Are you in a desperate state?—Can you fix the broken
record?—Can you recognize yourself in the mirror
before you are slumped over, before the EMTs arrive,
before your pets walk on their hind legs and take you home?
The brilliant, heartbreaking enjambment of the first line. Can anyone fix the broken? Do you see yourself? Will you finally see yourself at the terminal stop of your broken?
In poem after poem, Zevin amplifies the voices of grief and anger, channels the undercurrents of revolution, impassioned voices rising, wrangling, disturbing:
My wounds have a message.
If you see spies
splash water on your eyes
and look again out the window
with binoculars as if at the birds.
If you hear a humming you might
be bugged or not, but do not
worry about the fires to come.
It may be paranoia.
You might call Metal, Heavy a kind of experiment in sonic metallurgy, a book-length meditation on heavy metal, its bombast, pathos, sludge, finesse, madness, chaos, precision, the many ways if finally brings harmony to discord and vice versa. They echo the science of sound, that is, that it is vibration. So if you are hearing it, then you are vibrating. The denser the tissue, the faster sound moves through it. Bone is dense. These poems vibrate through the bone: Heavy metal “is rarely hearts fluttering in the wind.” Heavy metal “is don’t forget the groceries.” Heavy metal is “revolution on the backs of slithering snakes / in a burning field.” Heavy metal is an “archive of lives streaming / forever in a digital landscape.”
Speaking of landscape, Zevin’s poems also “speak for the trees,” cries out against the attacks on our fellow bodies: our landforms, our bodies of water, our mountains and streams: “We are fish running out of bubbles to breathe.” Yes, Zevin’s “wounds have a message”: Art and nature are both the sublime; and it’s time to take stock, take risks, take care.
Finally, Metal, Heavy says we must reap what we sow/sew/so; we must use poems and music, art as a whole, to fix and to mend, to find deliverance through the wreckage, to counteract the effects of loneliness, insanity, disquiet, and chaos.
Cynthia Atkins is the author of Still-Life with God, Psyche's Weathers, and In the Event of Full Disclosure. Her work has appeared in numerous journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, Apogee, BOMB, Green Mountains Review, and North American Review. Formerly the Assistant Director for the Poetry Society of America, she is currently an Assistant Professor of English at Virginia Western Community College. She earned her MFA from Columbia University, and received prizes and/or fellowships from Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, the Writer's Voice, and Writers@Work, and several nominations for the Pushcart and Best of the Net prizes.