Chapbook, MLA Chernoff, 20 pgs, above/ground press,, $5

The poems in this collection defy conclusive interpretation, but they appear to record a reality that’s now very familiar to most of us: life in lockdown, trapped at home, adrift in thought. 

As the “SCRIED” of the title suggests (future-telling via reflective surface), we get a distorted view of this narrative. It’s bent by the crystal ball we’re peering into as much as by the off-kilter discourse of the person who’s speaking. There are enough instances of “our,” “we” and allusions to sex in these poems to suggest that someone is there with Chernoff (assuming Chernoff is the speaking “I”), though we don’t hear from or about this other — only of their shared role in these circumstances.

Chernoff’s mood is somehow both manic and dour, sometimes feverish: “six long months of constant clickery… Every day rides the mucus of a snail… every night is Friday night and Monday / morning put together, burnt out and without end.” Compound words are regularly invented (“hornyscared,” “givingspread”) and a complex vocabulary is employed — you’ll find plenty of obscure terms to look up. A lone snippet of text is repeated here, in the first poem and the last: “I gotta make a decision / leave tonight or live and die this way.” It’s the plainest bit of speech Chernoff uses — a recurring moment of lucidity that never resolves.

SCRIED FUNDAMENTS is attention-grabbing, clever and regularly baffling. It’s sometimes recognizable and sometimes foreign, and though it often seems impossible to decipher, there’s never a dull moment. (Scott Bryson)


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