Thursday, April 12, 2012

Review of Howie Good's The Devil's Fuzzy Slippers

The Devil’s Fuzzy Slippers, poems by Howie Good. Flutter Press, 2012.

This chapbook begins with “Prophets & Martyrs,” a prose poem which introduces the theme of faith while simultaneously questioning that faith. In section 1, Good writes, “The panhandler holds up a piece of cardboard. Beep if you know Jesus, shakily written in black marker. Cars behind me do.” Good also touches on questions of cultural morality; do these people beeping truly know Jesus if they pass this panhandler by?

“We All Fall Down” continues this theme from a different approach. It begins, “You’re the person who only resembles the person who committed the crime. I’m the officer here to arrest you.” Good introduces what could be a very heavy topic, but he handles it with skill. He continues, “You’re a novel that people start reading but can’t finish. I’m the sound of falling asleep on a flat rock sheltered by an apple tree.” Here, Good has disambiguated the cultural experiences of these characters in a telling, but immensely readable way.

“Undertow,” is one of the more powerful poems in the collection. Good is a master of portraying subtle yet powerful emotion. One of my favorite lines I’ve ever read is, “All the people/you admire are either dead/or secretly sad,” (2-4), which develops the running theme of alienation, the outsider at odds with a nonsensical world. “You feel//the undertow of everything/that has gone missing,” Good continues (4-7). The poem implies more than just the ennui of the outsider, though. There is an iceberg below the surface, of which we can only see the tip. “I should have been there/with you when the little//black flowers broke open,” Good continues with a simple, yet effective image on loss (8-11). “I should have watched/for children like the sign said.” (12-13). What does Good mean by this? Did the narrator ignore this sign and run over a child? Or is it more existential; has the narrator simply misplaced his values? Good leaves it ambiguous, which makes it all the more powerful.

The question is, what does the title mean? The Devil is in fuzzy slippers, so he’s comfortable. He’s at home, perhaps. Maybe the world offers him so little challenge (i.e. the world has become so evil) that he doesn’t have to work very hard. On the other hand, perhaps the Devil is Howie Good. Perhaps he is comfortable with his ‘badness’. Maybe he’s come to terms with it and no longer concerns himself. We could synthesize these two ideas and say that the narrator represents someone who has come to terms with his ‘badness’, but he’s not the only one, which is what allows the world to be evil. I don’t actually think the first two theories are mutually exclusive, at all; in fact, I think they both work for the collection.

Regardless, this is one of the stronger chapbooks I’ve seen in a while. Good is very readable and very pertinent, but he’s enough of an artist that he doesn’t hit you over the head with meaning.

-CL Bledsoe

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