At first glance, A Cemetery for Holes may not attract too much attention to the intricacy of collaborative communication, but upon closer inspection a Lichtenberg pattern of trauma burns itself into the margins of each page. Tom Prime weaves a narrative of trauma as Gary Barwin’s poetry acts as a convex mirror for Prime’s distorted self-portrait.
A Cemetery for Holes is a challenging read to say the least. However, through its difficult narrative, it showcases how the deep discomfort of the arts can lead an attentive reader to a higher state of empathy and social understanding. Throughout the poems, the self is projected onto nature, and nature is introjected into the horror of the human body, brimming with violence and contradiction. The book is an attempt to reconcile or perhaps break the cognitive dissonance between the self, nature and the past represented in Prime’s poem “Diskless Headthing”:
I am an undeveloped
my fish scaled
throat didn’t save me.
Prime’s narrative of sexual trauma expresses itself as a childlike re-cycling and re-imagining of the body through trauma, often stripping language bare to absurdity. Prime’s poem “Aquariumedermis” showcases such re-imaginings: “the tank’s got cum stuck in the pump. // grubby little hands / muddying the tank’s vision.”
Barwin takes the microscopic imagery of Prime and sets it to landscapes, composes its background music. One prime example is Barwin’s poem “Moon”:
neurons if shimmerlit
eyeballs if waterfilled
handfuls if breath
if most people, screenthings, appleflowers
autonomous if regret
The persistent linguistic absurdity of both Prime and Barwin invokes a certain longing for childhood and its long-forgotten intimacy with pain, guilt and shame. Together they attempt to topple the building blocks of toxic masculinity and other oppressors of traumatic expression.
Halfway through the book, Prime’s poems begin expanding spatially. It’s at this point where Barwin’s poems begin becoming more playful, as if attempting to reassure and tranquilize Prime. Barwin is an empath-par-excellence for Prime’s narrative of pain and sorrow. However, from this point onwards, A Cemetery for Holes diverges from its starting point. The poetic “I” of the book begins to dilute in separate narratives and the book splits into two distinct voices. Poems begin taking on a Celan-esque semi-agglutinative compilation of space-thoughts that explore the abstraction of the body into the artifice of language. Barwin’s poem “Poem” is a great example:
The last few poems in the collection have been credited to Barwin and Prime both. Each Poet’s experimental approach amplifies the other’s and creates wonderfully bizarre poems. The finishing few poems showcase a beautiful collaboration that developed throughout the book, ending on a high note.
A Cemetery for Holes is an important read, one that I recommend to all who seek clarity on toxic masculinity and sexual violence. It is a book that is infinitely playful and flexible, yet palpably informative and educational.
Khashayar Mohammadi is an Iranian-born Toronto-based writer and translator.
ARC HITS THE HEART HARD.