Sudden Denouement’s Anthology Volume I: Writings from the Sudden Denouement Literary Collective demonstrates divergence in a multitude of ways
In late 2017, not long after I had started my own poetry blog on Word Press, I came across an intriguing site. Its black and white vintage photos and classic layout invited me in. The poems I read on that particular day were uniquely honest, full of rich free verse and wonderfully chosen words, so I chanced a look at the submissions requirements. Right at the top of the page, in neon lights: “Hell- -here” it greeted potentials; the “o” and “T” fizzled out. I chuckled with anticipatory glee, for under the classic front, something mischievous and dark lay there. And as I read more of the collective’s poetry and prose, I did indeed feel the pull of Sudden Denouement’s careful attention to what it calls “divergent literature,” although I had yet to clarify with certainty what that meant.
In SD’s Anthology Volume I: Writings from the Sudden Denouement Literary Collective, I found the answer. In fact, this book served as a literary map leading me through landscapes of the human experience not found in other poetry and prose that I had read elsewhere. This is due in part to the curators’ attention to diversity of experience and culture. I marveled at the harmony of voices, each speaking truth from its corner of the world. Each writer here has a part that blends in with the others, yet each piece has a distinct melody, a siren song that demands attention. Trust me when I say that this is an odyssey not for the faint of heart; there is no gentle introduction to that world.
On the contrary, the book opens strongly, challenging readers to question their own views about what beauty and meaning in literature should be, what being a writer is. The founder of the Sudden Denouement Collective, Jasper Kerkau, exclaims his writer identity is “anointed by almighty forces…to stand in the shadows and pay the price for all the beauty and unhappiness in the world.” (“I am a F*cking Writer!”) “These words have no meaning, when they sit on your screen,” writes Matthew D. Eayre in his poem “Subjective”. In “On Becoming a Writer,” Christine E. Ray bemoans the possible isolation and invisibility: “…she felt like she was calling out her truths/into an empty desert landscape.” Erich James Michaels likens the origin story of the poet to purposeful self-mutilation and self-removal from mainstream society (“Genesis”). All of these are fighting words in a battle to speak truths that may not be acceptable to the mainstream but are vitally human. To write in this divergent community is to steel oneself against a societal imperative to be vanilla in a land of a multitude of hidden and strangely delicious flavors.
There is no safety net in this world, either, and it is exhilarating. The first two-thirds of the anthology jump from birds pecking at veins and skin (Ra’ahe Khayat’s “birds & h e a r t s”) to the regret of a missed life (Mick Hugh’s “Dream catcher never understood the bus schedule”) to the irony of a world in which everyone is forced to achieve the American dream (David Lohrey’s “Glass Ceiling”). There are dark and desperate things, too, experiences thrown like blood and sometimes entrails onto the pages. Henna Sjöblom’s “Miscarriage” is hard to forget for its painful description of the loss of an unwanted baby “I thought I could make something beautiful/out of my shame”. Georgia Park’s “Weekly Meetings” made me uncomfortable, an invisible voyeur at a very charged gathering of Overeaters Anonymous. “Feel up my female…I quite like the emptiness settled in the pit of me” Kindra M. Austin taunts in “Because I’m A Whore Who Asked For It,” as she succinctly details disgusting things that are done to women under that blanket excuse. These three pieces are not the only ones that reminded me of the aspects of human existence about which we are usually discouraged from asking lest we appear too curious, too unaware, too privileged.
Throughout, form and function, captivating lyricism and masterful usage of poetic devices abound. But these are not tricks: The stunning repository of words used and construction of phrases seamlessly blended. I was repeatedly awed by the stories told, wishing for nothing more than continued passage into the world laid bare within the pages. And yes, I would be remiss if I did not mention that multiple forays are required if only to immerse oneself in the minds of S. K. Nicholas and Jimmi Campkin, both of whom write prose that manages to be both shockingly sordid and beautifully compelling. To chuckle at the humor that partners discontent in Oldepunk’s poetry. To breathe in the headiness of Aakriti Kuntal’s lush and captivating similes. There are gems on each page that cannot be missed, and sometimes I found them as I let words wash over me without specifically searching for meaning.
By the time I began reading the final third of the Anthology, I wished for respite from the unearthing of discontent and the unforgiving barrage of reality, even as it was sometimes cloaked in fantastical imagery. And a partial reprieve came in the form of odes to the seasons: “The Marigold of months has sure begun./Fling back the shutters and let down your Hair…” (Lois Linkens’ “the Yellow month”) and Spring has “a vessel/for the softest fragrance” (Iulia Halatz’s “Song of Spring”). There are testaments to romance and even epic love like Eayre’s “Out of My Hands,” but little if any frivolous romanticism here, just reality painted in elegantly brash words and unique imagery. Finally and fittingly, remembrances of death serve as the beginning of the end of the Anthology. In those poems and prose, I saw the openness of heart and strength of spirit required to allow total strangers to see the pain of losing a loved one.
Sudden Denouement’s Anthology exposes and breaks many of the taboos of being truly and unashamedly human, giving us permission to look at and embrace them in the moment of reading. I was allowed a glimpse into the writers’ souls; comprehending their words was an exercise in the development of understanding human nature. This is a world in which the heaviness of life weights everything down until it is distilled—frustration and hate, love and unfiltered sex, bodily urges, addictions, the complexity of human interactions. Descriptions are brightly painful in some cases, transparently critical in others, but always smack of truth. Divergent work demands that there are no holds barred; the writer reveals everything, and cuts close to the bone, even his or her own, in order to create a pulsating, living amalgamation of words.