Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Book Review: "the dead birth, itself" by Betsy Adams

Throughout this year, I've scoured used book stores for chapbooks and small print books. This has yielded more than a few gems, and "the dead birth, itself" is probably the strangest and also, by far, the most affecting of the books I've picked up.

Spectacular Diseases, a small press out of England, published 500 copies in 1993. As both press and Adams seem to have no internet presence, both apparently having disappeared (the last known book published by SD, that I can find, is 1996), you will no doubt have a great deal of trouble finding this, if my review seems to indicate it would appeal to you. I have located one or two used copies on the internet.

SD publishes poetry, and they call this book "long poetry." I break it down like this: two short stories, one story told as poetry but still very much a "story" and less "poem," and then a few long poems of which I  honestly cannot decipher. But the first three stories, well, those I can undertstand. And I found them not only distinctive and beautiful in their own unique way, but the first one was absolutely devastating.

The publisher's note at the beginning explains that Adams was a student of biology at Wayne State University in Detroit during the seventies, and it is clear that this experience vastly affected her. The work as a whole explores the issues of animal experimentation and testing, death, the search for beauty in all things (and I do mean, in all things), and our choices regarding each of those. It explores another issue as well, but I cannot give that away without destroying some of the integrity of the work. I will say that Adams has an unconventional and wholly heartrending view of the above subjects, and the reader cannot fail but to be touched by her disclosures.

While many works are forthright treatises on their given subject, this book approaches from a different perspective, luring you in with beauty and sickness both, with uncommon language, and gently persuades you to consider alternatives. It well and truly did so for me.

As much as I loved the first three stories, I was lost on the poetry that came afterwards. I do not claim to be a poetry expert; as I always say, I only know what I like or dislike. In this case, I simply could not comprehend, and it felt as if it came from a different mind than that which had penned the stories. A fragmented, wretched mind, one that implored the reader (or God? I somehow doubt Adams believes in a God of any kind) to understand and, possibly, to help.

Having said that, this is worth it for the first story alone, "On Her Off Days," and the other two are incredible additions. Do be warned that Adams's scientific background plainly shows through, and I notoriously have a weak stomach. There were moments when I wanted, desperately, to look away. But could not.

If you have ever thought that your scientific, logical mind could not quite find the answers to certain things, I think you will find Adams's book a help, if only, as I said, to give the reader alternatives.

Nothing is set in stone in this world. Nothing. If you can find this, I highly recommend it.

And as a sidenote: I cannot find anything about her other than the publisher's note that she currently resides on a huge tract of land north of Detroit, where she has a sort of animal rescue (though, again, this was in 1993, and I know just about every dog and cat rescue in the state today and do not know Adams). The cover to "the dead birth, itself" is a collage that is a collaboration between herself and Dr. Hiroshi Mizukami, who has been with the Wayne State U faculty since 1965. If anyone reading this does have any information, I'd be much obliged.

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