Review: Hell is a Forest that is Always on Fire

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By: Cassandra Litten

Hell is a Forest That is Always on Fire: Poems & Other Miseries by Brandon Michael Elrod opens with a grim dedication:

“FOR EVERYONE I’VE WOUNDED”


From there, things only get more painful. A collection of prose and poetry, Hell is a Forest never shies away from or places a saccharine mask over the dark depths of what it is to exist and to love.
With clever metaphors (“I carve a door in my abdominal wall/wind up the little toy soldier of my hope…”), seamless rhyme schemes (“... I would have asked the men to drag me from my grave/But I think you’d agree that this is where I’ll stay/Until I come to terms with the way the sky tastes/When the rain from the heavens floods every lake/A coffin for an arm that lasts for just one day…”), and brilliantly heavy visuals (“Disconnecting vertebrae like chalk candy…”), Elrod uses his life in the wilderness of Michigan and dive bars of Brooklyn, as well as his unique graphic design style, to create a sometimes meandering, sometimes abrupt journey into the darkness in the heart of all of us.

Still, it is not all gloom. Amongst the fire and the blood, even under the weight of these burdensome feelings, Elrod surprises with moments of gasp-worthy beauty (“... love disappears, too, and I’d like to see where it goes… ”, “Draped in the night by constellations shifting/A quiver in the cold/Her, a bonfire against cautionary winds…”, “I’ve been dreaming of tidal inlets/Untouched by the hands of man/Never faltered under the weight of regrets/Kissing your knuckles, gold in the pan…”).

Six words on the back cover act as a should-be-heeded warning and solid ending to a grim collection of writing:

“THIS IS
GOING
TO HURT
YOU.”

Purchase HELL IS A FOREST THAT IS ALWAYS ON FIRE: POEMS & OTHER MISERIES on Amazon

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Brandon Michael Elrod hails from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Learn more about him here.