We Are All Just Animals & Plants
Chapbook, Alex Manley, 62 pgs, Metatron, onmetatron.com, $12
This debut collection of poems adds to Metatron’s growing list of well-designed little chapbooks, but does not command the same level of recommendation as did ones from the recent past. Alex Manley’s verse is personal, personable, and lighthearted when it needs to be, but often dwells in self-contemplation. Put simply, We Are All Just Animals & Plants too often gets stuck in a mud of its own making.
The book is short enough to be read in a single sitting, and divided into three parts: “A—animals,” “&—Assorted Paraphernalia,” and “P—plants,” with little to no discernable structural or thematic differences between them. The speaker — a Montreal youth — laments his “Schrödinger’s Cat relationship” with a girl who plainly isn’t as interested in him as he is in her.
The premise is well-trodden, but for good reason: Manley’s speaker’s position is sympathetic and evocative, and allows him some touching scenes, one such being the central poem “Camera.” Taking place in a darkened greenhouse, the protagonist and his belle “sit down at the wrought-iron table and | make hearts with [their] hands. … Passing some purple | flowers, [she] wonder[s] aloud whether they might be | carnivorous. On our way out [he] see[s] something — a | raccoon, a little shadow scurrying from the room, | then it’s gone.” Spaced and margined, the moment is simple and unobstructive — Manley at his best. But too much of Animals and Plants’s emotion is thrown into the now-lost retrospect. Too often does this speaker “come into work a little bit | later every day, [his] beard a little longer … Facebook stalk [his] old therapist | in the jungle of [his] browser tabs, and think | disinterestedly about [his] mental health”. The tone is unbecoming when peppered between beautiful moments,