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Poet and playwright Filip Marinovich’s first book of poems, Zero Readership, is an unlikely epic set continuously in medias res. Through the mash-ups war makes quotidian (“what stocking / did you hang yourself with”) and a manic proliferation of tones (“lotus petals spit from the slotmachine”), the book’s frenzied sequences thrash forward with the linguistic aplomb of Joyce, O’Hara, and their own chatty guides (Wolfman, Grampa Mercy) whose “strange Belgrade speech” Marinovich absorbs. With mutating refrains, epistles, theatrical scripts, and innovative page-break enjambment (“reading obituaries by living [page break] room lamplight”), Zero Readership’s variety is so constant, it creates a coherent landscape, both of Serbia and Montenegro in 2005 and 2006 and, despite Marinovich’s suspicion that “Silence is better!” of how “Blood speaks complete sentences” in one’s ears. This irradiated terrain is grim—its citizens go “out for a death smoothie / with lots of wheatgrass” and watch cherry pickers take body parts from trees—and yet, as with Keats in quarantine, desperation breeds jauntiness and wordplay (“trace-horse,” “Art Palpitations,” “callbell,” “stick something harp in me”). The book’s wit is less gallows’ romp than the clear depiction of a chaotic world, of Marinovich’s “skull cinema.” Its humor is necessarily odd, but not at odds with the offhand knowledge that “wars always begin in autumn, or in the spring” or with a girl learning algebra by the “tomahawk green light flashes / in her window.” Toward the end, Marinovich takes inspiration from Blake (“‘everything that lives is holy’”) and seeks to stop “daylosing” and “sing beyond [his] noodle yet,” as though ardent faith in “humankindness” can redeem tear gas, insomnia, and “HELL CEMENT POURED IN HOT GOBS / ON BALKAN MOBS.” Through this supple, radical wrangling of the terrible, Zero Readership becomes a dictionary, or language primer, of “numerous words / fused or wrongly used.” Heart opening like a pun, in sacrifice and song, Marinovich is himself written there: “sunrays burning my skin / a nuclear tan / a name is spelled on my back / BENEVOLENCE.”
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