Book review: Artificial cherry, by Billeh Nickerson

Nickerson Artificial cherryNickerson, Billeh. Artificial Cherry. Arsenal Pulp Press. 2014. Paperback. 96p. ISBN: 9781551525402. $14.95

“You find poetry in the least expected places”
–”The Party (circa 1985)”

This line at the end of a poem describing how weird it would be to attend a party where the theme is for everyone to come dressed as you perfectly sums up the entire collection. In his sixth poetry collection, Nickerson packs irony, wit, whimsy, and a flair for both the weird and ordinary into a tight volume that ends far too quickly. Whether it’s gossiping about poetry reading and events, talking about Elvis impersonator conventions, or slowing down for a real moment about loss and the profundity of everyday life, Artificial Cherry has a lot of different flavors for the reader to swallow.

The poems in this collection read less like traditional verse and more like tightly compacted short stories that give the reader an intimate look into different events. Each narrative contains a shocking or ironic element that draws in the readers in and keeps their attention. Whether it’s a school friend taking out his glass eye and putting it into the foreskin of his penis, healthy actresses being paid to shave their heads for cancer commercials because cancer patients looked “too sick,” or a one-off line with no context that sticks in your head like “My asshole can lip-synch Mariah Carey,” this book moves with swiftness and humor making it easy to open to any page and jump right in. Quoting lines out of context to strangers is also more fun than it really ought to be.

As with everything that relies on humor, not every poem will be appreciated by every reader. Those uncomfortable with graphic language of explicit sexual descriptions may not enjoy the book. Even for people without these issues, the humor can still be hit or miss. The first poem, “Highway Game: Anal RVs,” is a list of 40 brands of RVs, each with the word “anal” in front of it. It wasn’t really my cup of tea, and it threw me off a bit because it was the first poem in the collection. Once I got past it, I hit my groove in Nickerson’s world.

A finalist for the Vancouver Book Award, this collection has humor, irony, and wit to spare. As Nickerson describes in the titular poem, “manufacturers believe real cherries aren’t real enough for our tastebuds” so they add in extra fake flavor to keep our attention. In the same way, this collection hopes to artificially amp up the interest of the reader so it can keep their attention and get its point across. Recommended for libraries that collect poetry.

John Mack Freeman

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