Metamortuary (Dylan Krieger)

Reviewed by Diane R. Wiener

Note from the Editor (also, the Reviewer): Due to the nature of the book under discussion, this review contains very graphic content. The content is not suitable for children. The review also references subjects and language that may be triggering for some adult readers.

In an early review of Dylan Krieger’s Metamortuary, experiential poetry editor, Barton Smock (isacoustic), wrote of the collection, “I have not known such a humane loneliness to exist, let alone to have been created from the orphaned nothingness and plural threesome of biology, weather, and locale.” Metamortuary is Krieger’s fifth collection; Smock’s words are a strong reminder of how Krieger’s published poetry, to-date, accentuates her many readers’ consensual engagements with work that is stalwart, iconoclastic, and unrepentant in its candor. Readers are meant to feel a kindred loneliness vibrantly, as an ethical aesthetic. We who are alongside Krieger in her poetic trajectory are also (of course) experiencing the language on our own terms. 

In a parallel while differently ironic and heretical nod to Christianity than happens in her critically acclaimed first book, Giving Godhead (Delete Press, 2017), Metamortuary preaches its secular chants to the unchartered and the unsalvageable—readers who are “in” but not “of” this world. We are summoned knowingly by means of her strategic kink to a holographic location both diffuse and aggregated. Agreeing to “join in” as a reader and interlocutor is akin to watching a beloved horror movie or visiting a virtual reality amusement park. One knows the cathartic evisceration scene is coming, but still feels shocked. The thrill seeking rides privilege a haunted fun house wherein childhood and fraught interpersonal alliances follow in shaky cars on the rider’s tracks. Krieger greets her readers at the start of the film-ride. She holds up a wide and wildly energetic mirror to us while keeping one pointed at herself. These mirrors exceed visuality; instead, their purpose is to unfasten affect, not solely or primarily what is “seen.” Krieger accomplishes all of these feats while sometimes standing beside us, or peering, bird-like, from above, without being condescending. She might elect to offer each of us a cup of tea, full of Hieronymus Bosch’s bile. 

Krieger’s externalized narrators reflect internal nuances, including a poetic protagonist’s seemingly autobiographical mother, who is a frequent character oozing across the five volumes. The mother (or, mothers) and other poetic voices populating Metamortuary (as happens with the previous four collections) are oftentimes Kali-like in their creative and destructive linguistic actions. Krieger exposes and underscores abuse, assault, drugs (both as therapy and addiction), and eating disorders. Reading this work is akin to bearing witness—in solidarity—to a trifecta of female administrative assistants summoning a fantasized Snow White alter ego, who whistles and sings, with animated bluebirds nearby, as she cheerfully poisons the masculinist boss’s coffee (as happens in the cinematic classic, 9 to 5).    

Intriguingly, the book covers of the prior four collections tell stories of their own, in some ways situating the texts and the (sighted) readers’ expectations. Giving Godhead features a graphic tongue tumor surgery adjacent to a decomposing human face on the front, with further decomposition scenery on the back cover that is adjoined by someone screaming from a seeming hell. dreamland trash (Saint Julian Press, 2018) has a black and white still of a brick-lined street, its foreground honing in on a “manhole” cover as beautiful as a sewer lattice can be (cover photograph by Rachel Krieger). 

No Ledge Left to Love (Ping-Pong Free Press, 2018) closes in upon a radioactive green feminine cameo. She wears a mask atop her head that bears the face’s pair of cut out eyes (outlined in the same green hue), while her main face has flowers exuding from its corpse-like yet vibrant, now-missing eyes and lipsticked, open, sensual mouth (cover art by Judith Supine). Ping-Pong Free Press is “published by the Henry Miller Memorial Library,” a non-profit, which speaks volumes, all on its own (in other words, I think Krieger has done Miller proud). 

The Mother Wart (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, 2019) is a squeamish yellow adorned by an illustrated, small rodent. The dead creature, bloody, is being feasted upon by flies and bees (the inside front cover advises that the cover concept is based upon Lauren Krieger’s photograph, with additional elements courtesy of Christopher Payne). I could comment just as extensively upon the epigraphs, but instead, will highlight that these imagistic content warnings are absent in Metamortuary. Uninitiated readers will therefore likely find themselves inadequately prepared, in more ways than one. Nine Mile’s pristine mahogany cover is misleading in wonderful ways. Head’s up, reader: Your head is about to be bitten off, and you might like it, or at least engage with gorgeous audacity.  

Metamortuary is divided into four sections: “Dangerous Meat,” “Raw War,” “Quiet Catastrophes,” and “Eternal End-Times.” (Those familiar with The Mother Wart may wonder if they are being invited to return to the Church of Euthanasia, referenced therein.) Although she does, at times, use disability as a metaphor or idiom in ways that might be far from welcomed, let alone embraced (to put it mildly), Krieger is likewise brazen in her assertiveness regarding disability experiences and civil rights—including her own. 

As in earlier works, Metamortuary’s stratagems include scalding sarcasm, wit, and kink; there is surely no risk of ennui. As I was doing the final edits on this review, Coronavirus was ravaging the world. Krieger’s “sickmosphere” is eerily predictive, aligning with the rights and perspectives of “vulnerable populations”: the immunocompromised, individuals with chronic illnesses, and other disabled people. The poem begins:

wanna be billowy broken bodies together? wanna place bets on
who will lose consciousness faster? they say where two or more are
gathered, the tide may turn and charge. i wrote a hymn to sing at
your funeral. i wrote a call-to-arms resistance narrative and you
were the star.

Krieger critiques capitalism, inequity, and social violence in myriad forms, using phrases both cautionary and absurdist (sometimes, at the same time). In “when even a peace sign looks like violence,” she proclaims a swerving sequence of connections between mentalism, legality, educational standards, religion, activism, and politics:

you’re only a rorschach test away
from getting committed or elected

however, for my mother, neither
she used to say the 1960s symmetrical emblem

depicted the christian cross turned blaphemously
upside-down, arms unabashedly

broken and bound—an incantatory jurisprudence
in which whatever much we must

bootstrap ourselves out of is defined by
neither method nor madness but simply

ERR—wrong answer! if there’s a problem
with your algebra or grammar, no matter

There is a keen lyricism in Krieger’s poems, even in their starkest and most alarming moments. One of my favorite examples is the conclusion of “to love is to fail”—a title that accentuates fallibility and ephemerality, rather than tragedy or renunciation. The poem is as hopeful as it is wrenching. It begins in mythic space, with the line: “there is an ancient parapet where I first met you.” This parapet is a fulcrum to which the poet returns in the last verse:

everything i’ve ever known lives somewhere else now. i’m listening
now for a new rhythm. a new bridge. a new telos. i’m listening for
what the parapet was built to protect: our casual passing. our
waving hello. that glint in your eye like it’s going to storm. that
break in the cloud-front. that ribboning mist. that figment of
recognition we’ve found in each other, like what else could the rain be
looking for, if not this?

This poem’s intimacy in addressing a beloved is directed to the reader, as well. The last words conjure a question by a voice in italics. Readers may wonder who is addressing whom, and from what location this inquisitiveness arises. Certainly, there are many interpretations possible. The absence of capitalization and the use of punctuation and spacing in “to love is to fail,” as elsewhere, disrupt normative conventions, but are certainly able to be read as consistent with other poets’ now famous techniques (among them, indeed, e. e. cummings).

The fact that I can compare kinky heretic Dylan Krieger to e. e. cummings is just another sign of both her breadth and genius. Read Metamortuary in a good mood, and you may be less unraveled than might otherwise be the case. Read it in a bad mood, and you may need to be ready to talk with a friend, afterwards (hopefully, the friend is ready to talk with you, too, keeping you company as you describe the orbits from which you have perhaps returned). Regardless, Krieger wants readers to know that there are really no such “things” as bifurcated moods; Metamortuary displays this truism brilliantly, and in abundance. Disney Pixar’s Inside Out tried to teach this lesson to kids of all ages. Krieger’s Metamortuary is the decidedly R (arguably, at times, NC-17) rated equivalent, schooling us—with needle-nosed precision and at times devastating commitment—to lift up and sustain our emotional intelligence. These are good and necessary lessons for managing life during a pandemic, I’d say.

Title: Metamortuary
Author: Dylan Krieger
Publisher: Nine Mile Press
Publication Date: 2020

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About the Reviewer

Diane R. Wiener became Editor-in-Chief of Wordgathering in January 2020. A poet since the age of seven, her first full-length poetry collection, The Golem Verses, was published in 2018 by Nine Mile Press. Diane’s poems also appear in Nine Mile Magazine, Wordgathering, Tammy, Queerly, The South Carolina Review, and elsewhere. Her poetry is forthcoming in the anthology, Welcome to the Resistance: Poetry as Protest (Stockton University Press). Diane’s creative nonfiction appears in Stone Canoe; her flash fiction appears in Ordinary Madness (Weasel Press). After serving as Guest Editor for Nine Mile Literary Magazine’s Fall 2019 Special Double Issue on Neurodivergent, Disability, Deaf, Mad, and Crip poetics, Diane was appointed Assistant Editor for the magazine. The Founding Director of the Syracuse University Disability Cultural Center (2011-2018), Diane now serves as a Research Professor and as the Associate Director of Interdisciplinary Programs and Outreach for the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University, where she also teaches in the Renée Crown University Honors program. She has published widely on disability, pedagogy, and empowerment, among other subjects. Diane is a proud Neuroqueer, Mad, Crip, Gender Nonconforming, Jewish Pantheist Nerd (etc.). She blogged for the Huffington Post between May 2016 and January 2018. You can visit Diane online at: