With her second book, Natalie Zina Walschots continues to explore poetic territory left largely unmarked by others. After Thumbscrews, a book of S&M flavoured poetry, she has turned her quirky pop-culture eye to the now-seemingly ubiquitous world of comic books in DOOM: Love Poems for Supervillains. The subtitle says it all: this is a book that imagines the erotic lives of fictitious beings who a) have superhuman abilities and b) are evil. The resulting collection is not to be taken too seriously, and I mean that in a good way; indeed I may be guilty of enjoying DOOM for what it isn’t rather than for what it is. After too much oh-so-important Canadian poetry blandly ruminating on memory, gardens, stones, and mournful window-staring, it is refreshing to read these playfully exuberant pieces. In short, it’s fun. The poems themselves are brief, sparsely worded to the point of being nearly epigrammatic, with no punctuation and titled by either a villain’s name or realm of dominance, covering decades of comics lore from long-known scofflaws Dr. Doom, Magneto, the Joker and the Green Goblin to more recent nasties like Bane and Omega Red.
The perspective is always first person, either from the villain’s point of view or that of a (semi-)willing paramour. The unadorned wording invites the reader to fill in the tawdry details of each encounter from his or her own imagination. For instance, in “Galactus,” (a planet-consuming alien largely fought by the Fantastic Four), Walschots imagines a lover who could soothe his insatiable cosmic appetite: “you must eat my love / it is your nature to devour / and for my insignificance/the smallest of suns / ignites my cells’ engines // let me extinguish myself / in your hunger.” Considering the proliferation of various kinds of fan fiction on the Internet, DOOM is not as outlandish as it may first appear; Walschots simply relocates an online tendency into print, fan poetry as it were, and brings it up against the conventions of love poetry. All that classical verse (Ovid etc.) of unadulterated gods who love/rape their mortal playthings invites the same kind of speculation. Placed in context, Yeats’s “Leda and the Swan” is surely a love poem to a supervillain. As if to cement the connection to the ancient world, Scylla and Charybdis make an appearance (though they are conflated with a duo that fought Aquaman).
My major qualm about DOOM is that knowledge of several comic-book cosmologies is essential for understanding the individual poems—a kind of reverse elitism—though insider knowledge is a characteristic of any obsessive fan fiction, or indeed fan poetry. As someone whose regular reading of comics ended around 1985 at least a third of the book’s characters were lost to me. Otherwise, I remain curious as to what strange and tender subject will attract Walschots’s wandering eye next time around.
Christopher Doda is the author of two poetry collections, Among Ruins and Aesthetics Lesson. He is currently working on a book of glosas based on heavy metal lyrics.