February 11, 2009

REVIEW: Zombie Haiku by Ryan Mecum

Blood is really warm.
It’s like drinking hot chocolate
but with more screaming.
It is with observations like these that Ryan Mecum’s Zombie Haiku brings us what is a unique first for the zombie genre: a zombie poet.

The general idea behind Zombie Haiku (How Books, 2008) is that you are reading a reproduction of a poetry journal written during the zombie apocalypse. The unnamed poet writes about his life and observations in the haiku form: a line of five syllables, a line of seven syllables, and another line of five. Our writer, however, finds himself in the middle of a zombie outbreak and is attacked and bitten. He becomes infected. As he turns into a zombie and joins the horde of the cannibalistic undead, he (somehow) continues to write in his journal, recording the narrative of his (un)life and his thoughts on flesh eating, decomposition, and the trials and tribulations zombies face in the pursuit of food.

The book is lovingly designed to appear like an worn, blood-splattered journal held together with scraps of paper and tape. Between its covers are crude drawings and doodles by the zombie author as well as illustrated representations of Polaroids paper-clipped to the journal pages. If you think too hard about the visual concept it doesn’t make sense (where did the zombie get a camera and time to write during his rampage), but the book is categorized as humour, so you’re not meant to read it as high concept.

Although it may not be high concept, Zombie Haiku is an incredibly funny, witty, and inventive look into the mind of a zombie. The beginning haiku poems, written while the author is alive, are uninspired dreck overwrought with hollow angst (“The bird flew away / with more than just my bread crumbs. / He took my sorrow”), but once the writer is infected and becomes a zombie the graceful beauty of the haiku form lends a sublime perspective to the gory details of hunger, flesh, and the absurdity of life.

[Mom is] always with me
especially if my gut
can’t digest toenails

Zombie Haiku isn’t laugh-out-loud funny – it’s not slapstick humour – but what Ryan Mecum is able to do is present a perfectly waggish take on the zombie. He contrasts the elegance and natural structure of the haiku format with the disgusting and unnatural life of the zombie to express the zombie’s indifferent, blithe spirit. The zombie writer is admirably comfortable and curious about his current situation:

Looking at my hand,
somehow I lost a finger
and gained some maggots

Some of the pace in Zombie Haiku drags as several haiku poems are simply included for exposition to explain how the writer got from one location to the next. I wonder if the collection would have benefited from dropping these parts and focusing more on the witty observations such as this excerpt:

Falling down stairs
wasn’t too bad or painful.
Took a lot less time.

Overall, Zombie Haiku is a fast, fun read. While not as substantial in content as other humor-categorized zombie books like Max Brooks's The Zombie Survival Guide, Mecum’s work is not simply a novelty. Sure, the individual haiku poems might not appear inspiring in isolation, but reading them in succession creates a very enjoyable reading experience. You’ll return to your favorite haiku poems again and again.

Mecum’s Zombie Haiku is a jocular treatment of the haiku format and zombie genre that goes right for the jugular.

RATING: 4 / 5 zedheads