Evil Summer is a chapbook of poems written in the aftermath of the author, Matthew Snee, losing a lover to suicide, experiencing a mental breakdown and coming to terms with consequent hospitalisation.
I’ve been here for twenty-four days,
Imprisoned, in a hospital,
for my own safety.
(From More Snow P2)
Along with a strong sense of imagery and voice, the theme of the collection is established in the first poem as the poet remembers waking in a hospital of “Paranoid hallways”, “Congealing nothingness” and “Golden illusions”. With lines like, “even now, her hair soft in my hands like black flowers.” and, “Her beauty confesses the old despair/in the twilight shade of tangled thickets.” this poem and the poems it precedes are manifestations of regret, which stem from the loss of love.
As the book unfolds, Snee ruminates on the juxtaposition of treasuring uniqueness while also facing the reality of what it means to be different. People living with mental illness, be it mild or severe, often view the world from a different perspective to that of their peers; that can, in varying degrees, give an individual an interesting, or even exciting edge to their personality. It can also make the world a terribly lonely place to be. Although the narrative here belongs to the author, Snee takes a back seat in terms of subject matter. His breakdown is a starting point. The flesh and bones here belong to the aforementioned, lover lost to suicide.
Here she lived, fighting off intimacy,
fucking strangers, neglecting friends and family.
Vain muscles, flames, murderous hounds:
what is the password?
Perhaps the closest a stable person can come to understanding the complexities of extreme, mental instability is to share, through love and commitment, in the ups and downs of an imbalanced life. Evil Summer, however, is a little more complicated than that; here we have two, somewhat unsteady individuals, whose collision has left more than its fair share of bruises.
Pity me not – the knife is warm.
She swallows pills,
with a determination she has never known before.
She was a cold spider,
the night throbbing fingers of a recurring disease
a prison, a detonating phantom.
Her lovely voice: “storms pass. So do I.”
Snee doesn’t shy away from the solipsistic aspects of mental ill-health. Deep-rooted selfishness is often synonymous with mental illness. It is neither intentional nor an excuse, it just isn’t always possible for an unwell person to see beyond their immediate complication. To be fair though, it isn’t all that different in the case of poor physical health. If the illness is all-consuming, then there simply won’t be anything left to go around. Or perhaps Snee’s insight is that human beings – regardless of health – are capable of cruel acts of absolute selfishness.
Her lover, the tyrant, and I never meet
I only hear stories of him,
of his cruelty
of his sexual amazements,
of his money
(The Tyrant of Miles Unknown P8)
Recovery is the overriding theme in this collection. More accurately, an effort toward recovery is prominent throughout the book. In Evil Summer, a person doesn’t recover from mental instability; our narrator recognises recovery as an attitude rather than a goal. The heart of this book is an unpacking of emotional baggage. Once the bags are emptied, the contents are analysed and the poet goes through the process of deciding what is to be kept and what is to be discarded. This book is unmistakably a tribute. Unlike many tributes before it, however, this one doesn’t shy away from the painful side of truth. There is honour in honesty; when a person takes their own life, they also take a piece of the lives around them. To deny this in tribute would be an incomplete account.
Just as it was before.
There is a vomiting heat, a deep wound.
There is a sleepless dog in this iron throat.
(The Colossal Deformity P27)
Here is a substantial chapbook of lyrical poems about anxiety, depression, delusion, death, mourning, recovery and love. Evil Summer is rich in voice, imagery and purpose. It has been polished carefully without any of its emotional shine being dulled. While most of these poems are fairly short, they are not particularly spare in nature. Nor are they overly burdened by verbose indulgence. There is something to be said for accessibility, but having every conclusion sealed by an author can become a dull affair of predictable repetition. Snee’s courage in openness and vulnerability is equaled by his confidence in the reader’s ability to participate in the work. Rather than demanding, he suggests and prompts, creating an atmosphere for poet and reader to exchange ideas. In doing this, Matthew Snee has initiated a conversation in a subject which is shamefully rare; and that, my friends, is what art is all about.
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