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Condiments & Entrails

By John Durak

Would I not be a stylish divinity?
if not for my genetic impediment— 
high mortality rate

John Durak, author of the delectably titled Condiments & Entrails, is a “graphomaniac / of whom nothing is known,” someone who refreshingly bucks the self-promoting confessionalism of the social media age by disclosing no personal information I could find online. From his poetry I surmise he’s a mortal being, cis male, heterosexual, a denizen of comic-strip versions of NYC and Kathmandu, a stand-up comedian of the page inhabiting a morose navel-gazer’s vale of tears. He writes in small, centered squibs, the kind of offhand wiseacre who says “doo-whoopty-doo” while describing the morning dew, appreciates the curves of ampersands and “perky” asses, and interrupts an existential crisis with the command to “relax!” 

Durak’s method is off-kilter, fun yet serious, Dadaist yet contemplative, darting among the surreal, aleatory, and phenomenological. Sometimes his work has the silliness of a fractured nursery rhyme, with a hipster’s undertow of primal anxiety:

Thinking of a gentle friend;
on an island in a sea; 
planting life to be;
but me;
alone in a sea;
sitting on an island that is me; 
witnessing sharks biting their nails 
in shallow waters;
afraid of what is to be
 

If he’s a comedian, it’s not because he dispenses one-liners but because he’s beguilingly absurd (“sharks biting their nails”) even when confronting matters like love, reality, and death. Being funny, which—in Durak’s case—means edgy and mercurial rather than sweet and light-hearted, makes the seriousness go down easy. When he meditates (“I sat with I”) in a pastoral landscape, he sounds less like Hesiod or Wordsworth and more like Monty Python doing a mash-up of Temple Grandin and Samuel Beckett:
 

Sitting in a field of cows 
their shrieks—a constant 
restless
it has been far too long 
since I sat with I
skies imploding
mind exploding 
possibility of becoming 
MOO! MOO!—a constant 
elementally charged 
agenda: subject & object united 
“reality”—a patchwork 
feeling sweet Nothingness; 
like Nowhere else
mu! mu!
complete

Reviewed By David Woo
Publisher Sandorf Passage
Pages 176
Date June 7, 2022
Price $18.95