In 2007 Black Ocean released Zachary Schomburg’s The Man Suit, a poetic collection that sprawls in gasps of poetry, full of imagery and surreal landscapes, tinged with faux history and savagely tender deaths. Then in 2009, Black Ocean released his second book, Scary, No Scary, which took these surreal landscapes even farther, threading them into a pseudo-narrative of hummingbirds and trees and visions of fright, blooming in a triumphant poetic score. And now, since the excellent people at Black Ocean are either smart enough or lucky enough to continue publishing Schomburg’s work, we get Fjords.

In this beautiful new volume, Schomburg writes from his signature surreal vantage, but one this time of fjords and ice-flows and boats melded with ghosts and bodily transformations and lost limbs. And though this is familiar territory for Schomburg, the most brilliant aspect of surrealism as a poetic approach is that it is limitless. So in Fjords we get the poem ‘THE WOMAN WHO FALLS FROM THE SKY’:

“This is how / everyday starts with us, a kind of waking up into / the day in front of me, and then every night she / falls through a dark hole. I should say this isn’t / exactly true, the part about falling through the sky. / The truth is we woke up like the rest of you, in a / bed with our hot mouths falling open. But it was / glorious, a goddamned miracle, the crashing into / and the never dying.”

And it is followed by the poem ‘THE KILLING TREES’:

“I take a train to the forest and stand before / the tallest tree. It’s time I tell it, but it keeps / standing. When I try chopping it down, a cloud / falls on me, and then a burning airplane, and then / my mother and father, and then more burning / airplanes.”

These flow into dozens of other surreal landscapes, looping back on images and creating new ones, all tromping in and around and through one another. It is a limitless space indeed, but one in which Schomburg is perfectly comfortable, easily digestible, and brazenly, justifiably confident.

Fjords is also an apt illustration of Schomburg’s evolution from previous collections, expertly merging the best aspects of both. Fjords takes the same slant to imagery as The Man Suit, moving quickly from one to the next, seemingly unconcerned with poem to poem transitions, while also latching on to the narrative elements of Scary, No Scary, shaping separate poetic vignettes into a collective faux-narrative, one where thematic threads build the story of our protagonist, a man who is staving off his impending and imminent death by ignoring it, by dreaming against it.

Comparisons aside, Fjords affords us one wholly unique and incredible gesture within its pages, completely distinct from The Man Suit and Scary, No Scary: using death to explore love. Fjords opens and closes on the coast of Spitsbergen, where the fjords offer the protagonist’s icy finish:

from ‘WHAT WOULD KILL ME’, the opening poem:

“I grew / old distracting myself from what I knew to be true. / And then, just like I knew it would, it came late one / night, booming with slowness, from the fjords.”

from ‘THE RECKONER’, the closing poem in Fjords:

“The air is clean and cold. I can / hear the ice breaking in the distance. There is a / woman in a long black dress and a black scarf over / her face. Welcome to Spitzbergen she says. Then she / lifts up her dress. Nothing happens next.”

But what occurs between these deathly houses is the core of Fjords, a variety of animal transformations and rebirths, all in one way or another intently focused on love – the love of life as an immeasurable entity. Fjords uses its poems to remind us that death and love are intrinsically linked, that to envision death is to remember love, that to die is to remember the love of living, so that even as our father is split from our side, even as the oncoming world severs all ties, it is love that makes death so brutal:


“The truth is there is no such / thing as spells. The world is always as it is, and / always as it seems. And love is just our own kind / voice that we whisper into our own blood.”

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J. A. TYLER is the author of Colony Collapse, available now from Lazy Fascist Press. His recent work has appeared in Black Warrior Review, Redivider, Cream City Review, Diagram, Fairy Tale Review, Columbia Poetry Review, and New York Tyrant. He also runs Mud Luscious Press.

One response to “Review of Fjords, by 
Zachary Schomburg”

  1. […] “Costa Rica” appears in Zachary Schomburg’s latest collection, Fjords (see the review by J.A. Taylor at The Nervous Breakdown). Not sure how I missed this when he uploaded it 8 months ago, but […]

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