BOOK REVIEW
 



Bench Press
123  pages
$15 paperback



ISBN: 978-0-9828142-2-2


Photography:  Stephanie Bart-Horvath
Book Design: Stephanie Bart-Horvath

2011

 
                       

Jee Leong Koh’s latest book of poetry, Seven Studies for a Self Portrait, provides an intricate point-of-view puzzle for the reader  A quote from Nietzche at the beginning of the  book lays down the rules for the game.  “I create and carry together into One what is fragment and riddle and dreadful accident.”

The book is divided into seven sections, all of them interrelated and linked to
self-identify, primarily homosexual identity.

The first section, “Seven Studies for a Self Portrait” offers the reader seven self-portraits of artists, each told from a first-person point of view:  Dürer, van Gogh, Rembrandt, Schiele, Kahlo, Warhol and Morimura.  

Here is  Vincent van  Gogh’s.

  Study #3: After Vincent van Gogh

God sank a mineshaft into me for a reason
I could not see in the coalming district.
Coal dust ate the baby potatoes and beer.
When a man slammed into a woman, dust
climbed in their heads and formed a cloud.
I carried away what was mine, and burned
black into blue, red to rose, yellow to gold.
I burn a house and change it to a church.
I burn the fuse of flesh and my face bursts,
a wheel of fireworks, a vase of sunflowers. 



The next section section, called “Profiles” characterizes seven men, each from the third-person point of view.

The third section, “I am my names,” presents seven captivating riddle poems in the first person.
 

 

M.

The world is never what it seems.
It is far more interesting
to guess the secrete affinities:

The boy and girl sleep side by side,
the lion by the slab of lamb,
the garden’s promise by its rot.

My name is Mystery. I am a homosexual.


The fourth section,  “What we call vegetables” provides seven humorous poems about the identity of vegetables, most in the first-person, plural. Here is the poem, "Stem" from this series. (And, yes, there could be a double-entendre in regard to the word Stem.)
 

  Stem

We spare, we spear
softly, secretly,
your gut. We spare

most of you
our acrid smell
A few get us.

Asparagus, Proust
says, perfumes
his chamber pot.

As do doctors.
As do saints


The fifth section provides "Translations of an Unknown Mexican Poet."  The sixth section, "Bull Ecogues"  presents poems about the experience of homosexuality in contemporary culture.

The last section,  "A Lover's Recourse: After Roland Barthes," which is the longest, provides a series of quick, odd, and often funny, relationship proverbs.  Here's an example:

  The fading is a fault but silence is an itch.
Must unendurable, Jee, is the unrelenting bell.


What is the answer to the riddle of this highly creative, puzzle-type, book?  There's only one way to find out . . .


Reviewed by Mary Ann Sullivan
    January 2013