Rauan Klassnik writes and makes ugly things seem kind of beautiful.
Rauan Klassnik is a writer I follow on Twitter. A while back he sent me a tweet asking if I would like to review his new book, The Moon’s Jaw, and of course I said I would. Several days later, a package arrived in the mail containing two books, The Moon’s Jaw and Klassnik’s previous work, Holy Land (2008), both with autographed and illustrated title pages.
There are recurring images in both collections of prose poetry: shooting guns and shooting cocks, the female body (sometimes bruised, sometimes being ejaculated on), circles, god, duality (simultaneously: man & woman, love & hate), birds, restraints, death.
The images in The Moon’s Jaw add up to bizarre dreamscapes of the fearful, beautiful, and grotesque. Lines read like excerpts from an erotic horror film script:
“Under the moon’s tightening wrists–Leaning down to pet yr dog, you looked up at me & shot the dog in its face. We fucked. & we fucked again. & when I came to you were sucking me off.” (page 15)
“Waves. & Flowers. Revolving. In black lace: Gurgling. You’re pushing me back down on the bed now. & you’ve got my wrists above my head. & you’re eating me out– Licking up between my breasts. It’s dusk. Lights, Wound, Up, In a Spiral: Hooked–Thru Me, Like Gut, On, Fire. Yr grip’s tightening. I’m sinking: Like fish–In cool shade. Birds, like planets–All ripped up.” (page 22)
In the “Notes” at the back of the book, Klassnik recognizes the impact his readings on “disease, sex, religion, violence, God, & the Holocaust: especially the godlike Tadeusz Borowski” have had on his writing.
Borowski was a Polish writer and journalist and prisoner of Auschwitz during the Nazi occupation of Poland, a stark contrast to Catullus, the writer who served as a great influence in Klassnik’s work on Holy Land. From the bath house to the slaughter house.
The Moon’s Jaw format consists of right margin justified prose poems on the left side pages and em dash laden center aligned poems on the right side pages (which feel like bits omitted from the left side pages). In the third section, “The Great Poet,” which also happens to be the middle of the book, some of the pages (left and right side) are accompanied by italicized prose poems in smaller font. There is heavy usage of internet shorthand, with ampersands, “yr” in place of “your” and “you’re,” and a lot of dashes. The book is divided up into sections with titles like “A Man & A Woman” and “Suicide: A Girl,” and each chapter has an accompanying moon phase drawing.
Klassnik says that the poems on the left side pages and right side pages are “similar but different” and complement each other.The alternating pages is meant to create “a weird but increasingly monotonous effect.” The little italicized poems serve to break up the monotony. “One of my friends described these little poems as the moon’s halo,” Klassnik says. “And I like that.”
I like that, too. “Moon’s halo” is a pretty way of putting it. Does that mean it will rain soon?
I wish the moon as metaphor in The Moon’s Jaw was maybe used more playfully. We get to see the moon go through its cycle as we go through the book and we read references to it like “a lone source of light,” and see comparisons made to it like “A baby like a crane, on fire–Rising, Up, Over, the Alps,” but the old metaphor was not necessarily reinvented here, nor does the moon specifically unite the book as a whole.
I like Klassnik’s description of the moon: “Scraped– Up, Over the Trees. & the Howling. Never Bigger–Or Smaller. Night: After Night. Cold as a Fingernail.” My dad used to point up to the moon when it looked like a sliver and say, “Allie, look. God is trimming his fingernails,” and I would picture a man with a white beard in the sky and think, “God’s fingers must be really big.”
I like how the prose feels like I’m waking up from a dream and only remembering fragments, repeating the details in different ways in an attempt to get a full picture but still surrounded by graininess.
I like the unusual combinations taking place in the poems, the binary couplifications of man & woman, good & evil, sex & violence, love & hate, high & low, “crude & elegant,” Catullus’ influence, the idea that opposites may be one simultaneously.
A nice example of this kind of duality can be found in the poem on page 20:
and its facing Em-dash poem on page 21, both in the chapter “A Man & A Woman.”
–Grazing Deep In Me–Deer Stand Up–Like Clocks–
–Chirping–Chirping Gargoyles–Between Our Legs–
–I’m Two People–Me & A Woman–Abruptly–
–Then Playfully–Passionately–Adam & Eve–
–A Plucked Bone–Wreathed–& Teething–
I think you can see the opposites operating simultaneously here, too. Boiling and cool, looking like a hungry predator and also a spiritual guide, a woman goes from fisting her male partner to completely going inside so that they now one, sharing body parts.
The Em dash poem reiterates these ideas, in a more skeletal and disjointed way.
These are love poems, even if they spark some feelings of disgust along with the expected lust. Klassnik says there isn’t much love in The Moon’s Jaw, but I think I disagree. If one can think of love while looking at crime scene photos, then I’d say there is plenty of love in The Moon’s Jaw.
Alexandra Naughton is a writer in San Francisco. She edits the literary magazine, Be About It. Website: thetsaritsasez.com