June 1, 2007

Review: The Continuing Misadventures of Andrew, the Headless Talking Bear

The Continuing Misadventures of Andrew, the Headless Talking Bear

Octopus Books, $6

In his captivating chapbook, The Continuing Misadventures of Andrew, the Headless Talking Bear, Jonah Winter crafts a wonderful pastiche of mostly free-verse, sometimes-rhymed sonnets. The poems are playfully earnest and cluttered—in a meticulous, dioramic kind of way—with coherent abstraction and illusory “thing-ness” (or, to use Winter’s word, “thing-hood”). Each poem reads like a fractured fairy tale where character and landscape collide in enchanted proportions:
Terrified angels hover in the basement,
clutching on to each other’s tattered wings,

crying ice-cubes, emitting ball-lightning

from their eye-sockets, now just cavernous spaces.

Evil returns again and again

to the little log cabin where It was born.

* * *

Mr. Duck? Are you aware that “time”

is an artificial concept, divined

by humans as a means of measuring

progress, and, too, destroying the dreams of children?

Come back, Mr. Duck. It’s all so clear now,

like counting backwards all the sheep in Canada:

Tundra-esque, remote, one night repeated

ad infinitum, the porch lamp always lighted...

* * *

Then, after the apocalypse is over,

all the animals are wheeled back onstage,

lifelike, smiling. (Note the Siberian Tiger.)

Oh no – here comes Mr. Pitiful!

What sad song bring ye in thine heart today?

Descending spirals, vomit, closed city,

a huge fountain of anti-matter, raining.

Well, we’ll have to put a man right on that.

Meanwhile, if you could just fill out this form...

Thanks! Understanding why you’re sad

blah blah blah negative thoughts blah blah blah corpse.

Okay, first, let’s move everything

back into the center ring. Maestro –

where is thy victory? Death, where is thy –
Winter also waggishly mixes-in referential elements on sonnets, process, and narrative. Perhaps the best example of this playfulness reaches across the two poems that end the book’s first section, “A Certain Argument”:
“We interrupt this poem for an announcement:
Will the man who’s collapsed on the marble floor

please come to the Information Desk,

I repeat: Will the long line of men and women

waiting at Window #7, turn

towards the great bronze doors. I repeat: O wild west – ”


“Shall I compare thee to – ” No, I’m afraid

you have the wrong number...
Here, the halting directive that “interrupt[s] this poem” morphs into additional directives, just like the opening lines of Shelley’s terza rima ode bleed into the opening lines of Shakespeare’s sonnet.

Another sonnet within the book’s first section ends almost winkingly: “This is not to say it can’t be done, / the poem as open-ended as the ocean.” As a whole chapbook, as two self-contained sections, or as individual poems, this notion of the poem’s “open-ended[ness]” is what Winter truly seems to be after. The narratives do lack succinctness, but they are neither trivial nor simply tongue-in-cheek. “The poem as open-ended as the ocean” provides no hindrance to understanding; if anything, the vastness contained in this proclamation serves as a buoyed guidepost as we survey the bizarre worlds Winter creates.

The overall effect of The Continuing Misadventures of Andrew, the Headless Talking Bear is one of esteemed wonderment. The poems are shrewd and amusing, as mysterious as they are precocious.

by Nate Slawson

This the sixth in a series of eight reviews on the chapbooks from Octopus Books.