To say that death casts a long shadow over, In Rot We Trust, would be an understatement. This collaborative chapbook from Rob Plath and Janne Karlsson begins, proceeds and concludes in death. I’m hesitant to call it illustrated poetry. The pictures don’t mimic the message or elaborate on the words; both visual and written aspects are twisted and knotted up together in grim warning of the coming reaper. In fact, the reaper is already here, you can feel his cold breath on the back of your neck as you turn the pages. His flesh-less fingers interlock with your own and his grip lasts long after the book’s conclusion. And in conclusion, we are reintroduced to the reality of our temporary state.
There is a bleak, empty loneliness here, and its setting is a predatory universe where existence itself becomes a mortal enemy. Mouths are sown closed, but we gather all we need to know from the silent fear and pain in the pin-hole eyes of life’s victims. Karlsson has always captured the realisation of hopelessness in his visual art. He is the master of death in life, of base instinct, of open wounds, of exposed bodies, broken bodies, of bodies rotting from the inside out. His characters are disfigured and dismembered, their faces are blown half to hell, their spirits are crushed to fine powder and carried away in a gust of cold wind. And he does it all with a wicked and maniacal wink of the eye. Karlsson is the king of black comedy within the small press.
Without doubt, this is a humorous book. Its laughter is of the type that accompanies manic energy, which follows the devastating low from which recovery seemed unlikely. It’s laughter that somehow made its way through the maze of a broken soul and transformed grimaced smirk to honest smile. It’s laughter that brings up the bile and expels the devil inside. It is a healing humour which may not save us, but will cushion the stark reality of encroaching death.
And here lies the juxtaposition of trusting in rot; in accepting death as the end of our membership to existence, we are free to live in the moment, but the moment is often a cruel, godless, gaping, empty nothing. Each of Rob Plath’s spare poems are an exploration of the above juxtaposition. Despite the unknown distance between here and the grave, death has already arrived. There is both peace and rage in this man’s voice as he strives toward the mindfulness of animals and grapples with an existential, human crisis. The first poem of the book begins with worms feasting on a corpse and ends with tombstone and epitaph corroding away to nothing. Three pages later, the consuming masses are perceived as the walking dead. In the poem, Ashes and Giants, the poet considers his own mortal shell, and accepts, with ease, that sooner or later it will cease and be burnt to ash.
somebody will burn my
body one day
but what about my
1,000 times larger
than my shape
that giant untouchable
motherfucker will hoot
at the puny flames
& haunt this bastard
(Ashes & Giants, pg 10)
Let’s break the above poem down and take a look at Plath’s style and overall message within this work. There are two face-value aspects here, both of which are established in the first two stanzas. In simple and matter of fact terms the author is going to die and somebody else is going to burn his body. A position of weakness is established and power is placed into the hands of an indifferent stranger. In the second stanza, emptiness in life is introduced, a consistent theme throughout.
The key to unlocking the purpose of this book, and perhaps the overall theme within Plath’s wider work, is found in the three concluding stanzas. Again and again, the emptiness is embraced. He spends time with it, recognises its honesty, welcomes it as a tangible part of himself and takes ownership of it. The result is quite exhilarating, as the power is removed from the hands of an indifferent stranger, and set free to hoot at the puny flames of death like a giant untouchable motherfucker. When Rob Plath writes about death, I am enlivened. When he writes about loneliness I am no longer alone.
When he writes about emptiness I have something to hold onto. In Rot We Trust is a book that celebrates both life and death. It mocks and reveres the mortal coil. It is fun and serious, ugly and beautiful, defiant and obedient. Indeed, this collaboration begins, proceeds and concludes in death. Moreover, though, death is forced to face the fact that it cannot exist without life. For all of its cruel, godless, gaping emptiness, this is a life-affirming bastard of a book that holds both life and death to account.
Latest posts by Matthew J. Hall (see all)
- A Review: In Rot We Trust by Rob Plath and Janne Karlsson - November 19, 2017
- A Review: Fuck Cancer Poems by Michael Grover - November 9, 2017
- A Mini Review of Wolfgang Carstens’ Hell And High Water - November 4, 2017