Blake Wallin

Review of Beyza Ozer’s Fail Better

Beyza Ozer has never been shy about their love for the cosmos. It is this thread that ran through their first two collections: Good Luck with the Moon & Stars & Stuff (Bottlecap, 2015) and I Don’t Mean to Redshift (Maudlin House, 2016), and now reaches its nexus in their first full-length book Fail Better(fog machine, 2017). If Good Luck’s incorporation was the motif’s baby phase – full of new life, wonder, and mess – and Redshift’s incorporation was the motif’s awkward teenage phase where it didn’t quite know where it was going, then Fail Better is a more assured, adult form of the mythos Ozer works with and molds to their liking. The turns are more assured, the structure infinitely more ambitious, and the individual poems themselves harder hitting.

The turns in Fail Better are better than they ever have been in Ozer’s writing. “I Still Have Very Old Hands & Here Is That Letter I Promised You” remains a dynamo, but is rendered even more so by its better placement in the collection. (It was the last poem in I Don’t Mean to Redshift, Ozer’s second chap.) There, it was haphazardly thrown at the end and, while it’s one of the best poems Ozer’s written, it belongs in a place where it can open up the issues, concerns, themes, and motifs of the chap or book rather than closing them off. Mainly because the poem does a poor job of closing off anything. While it looks like a definitive statement, later poems are necessary to gracefully work out its thorny persistence.


For what looks to be the first time, Ozer has freed themselves up to write about issues they care about without coyly dodging the subject matter through the turns of the individual poems. This time the turns match the intensity of the context to such a staggering amount the combination is stunning. Out of the three collections, this one contains the best long poem they’ve written (“I Still Have Very Old Hands & Here Is That Letter I Promised You”), the best love poem they’ve written (“Roses”), the best series poem they’ve written (“At the Edge of the Exit Wound”), the best political poem they’ve written (“When I Kiss You, A Casket Opens: After June 12, 2016), the best personal poem they’ve written (“Parting the Sea Between Brightness & Me”), and two of my favorites ever (“A Phone Call Between Me & Allah” and “Fail Better”). There are a couple (like, very few) bad or off turns, but you’d be hard pressed to find a bad poem in this bunch.

The world is ending, and Beyza Ozer wants you to know that. I don’t want to go around calling people prophets, but it does look like the world is ending right about now and Ozer has very kindly given us a manual for these end times. Indeed, Fail Better almost reads like a how-to manual about love and self-care, with the Anneane sections peppered throughout an assortment of larger-than-life- yet-still-life poems and problems and issues. And what better way for enduring the world’s end than by loving oneself and others? And what better way to convey the issues this world is facing than by treating them as they are: hard to handle and too complex to grasp in books or individual poems.

A friend of mine once called Beyza Ozer’s writing in this book melodramatic. While I do think that Ozer often uses heightened emotions to a fault, I never get the impression that Ozer crosses that fault line into cheap heightened emotion, where the context doesn’t necessitate the emotions on display. In fact, I think this collection is the least melodramatic out of their three books because the material they’re working with is so much heavier, more nuanced, and more worthy of crying over. A long time ago, I wrote a short review of Good Luck With the Moon & Stars & Stuff and wrote that the chap made me cry. This was not true; the chap was not what made me cry, it was the feelings

that the chap superficially brought up. The difference with this most recent project is that, if I had cried, the tears would have been real and through the poems themselves. In fact, the final, most personal poem in the collection “Parting the Sea Between Brightness & Me” carries Ozer’s central motif of crying to a glorious finale and final resting place.

Fail better is a cliché term for getting up and trying again, getting back on the horse, trying even though you know your attempt is imperfect, etc. This phrase is dumb because the notions of success and failure are so tied into one another that their combination becomes essentially meaningless. But Ozer achieves a delineation not between success and failure but between successful poems and failed poems; they measure themselves by poetry – not through simple, capitalistic concepts. By writing more clearly and tangibly about success within failure (of themselves, of the world) in successful poems, they have achieved the title’s mission statement. To wit:

But I didn’t end up falling so I just sat cross-legged & thought about how fucking small I am. I didn’t cry. I saw Anneane’s face in a pink cloud that turned orange. She was smiling. It was okay. It was bright & there were birds. People laughing downstairs in the kitchen. It would have been okay if this body went for a walk down the mountain without me in it. (At the Edge of the Exit Wound #4)

Fail better indeed.

Blake Wallin is the author of the chapbooks Otherwise Jesus (Ghost City Press, 2015) and No Sign on the Island (Bottlecap Press, 2016) as well as the microchap The Lucidity of Giving Up (Ghost City Press, 2016).

Blake Wallin

Review of Dalton Day’s Weather Or Not

The cover art for Dalton Day’s newest chapbook through Maudlin House has a family of three on a beach arranged in order of height (tallest rightmost, shortest leftmost) on the left of the cover, and the rest of the beachfront continuing to their right.

This cover explains some of the concerns of the Weather Or Not, but, in the context of Day’s oeuvre, is more so just indicative of the largest problem of Day’s style: it is isolationist while preaching togetherness. This typically isn’t bad when he’s being honest about it, like in his best collections up to this point (Actual CloudTandemFake Knife), but when the style gets mired in its own seeming revelations the moving parts wisp away with the wind (interglacialsAlternatives, the others).

Part of what was annoying about interglacials, the king of the “revelatory” collections, was that he narrates the reader having these experiences, which has always been part of his style: look at this experience, you are having it, isn’t it wonderful? The problem with this is that it is an extreme gamble when you’re putting together a body of collections; it works only half the time and the other half it becomes tiresome.


Weather Or Not is an amazing step forward because it shows that Day doesn’t need fragmented structure to get his ideas across and can speak plainly but honestly. The reason this collection works is because, for once, he is letting us know he is telling us our own experience while reading his own work. There’s no subterfuge.

Usually, Day’s turns have traded imagination for cheap imagery and reversals of fortune or focus, and it is this style that has gotten beaten into our collective poetic consciousness, like a carpenter working with bad wood and throwing his creations at people anyway. I get that his writing is experimental, but most good experimental poets (consistently good) are more honest about their intentions and execution than Day is.

Weather Or Not is an improvement because it reassures the reader that, without a fragmented structure, Day can write good poems. This chap benefits from short poem-paragraphs, like syntactically formal versions of his previous good poetry, like somebody stepped on top of his signature long, snakelike, and short-lined poems. The format works wonders here, especially when compared to Day’s other experiment with the paragraph-poem form in interglacials, where the block poems were usually unnecessarily long and didn’t provide enough substantial turns to justify the length.

In interglacials, the sentences are structured the same, and the intended effect is empathy. In Weather Or Not, the sentences are structured mostly the same, and the intended effect is dissociation (cf the subtitle). The latter succeeds while the former fails because empathy is not predicated on just similarity; it’s predicated on a combination of similarity and difference.

The primary example of this is the fourth poem in the collection:

Taking a picture of a spider-web proves difficult. It looks
invisible in every picture, which sounds like an oxymoron,
though you’re not entirely sure about that. When you give
up on the picture, you look up the weather forecast. You
doubt its accuracy.

The first two sentences show a pretty typical (or, if feeling generous, classic) Day turn, but the last two sentences are, for me, indicative of the chap’s mission as a whole – a mission statement that not only pretty explicitly says what’s wrong with Day’s bad poetry, but also reveals the qualities that save Day from mediocrity. Day is, for once, showing the light of his poetic style – in that the speaker gives up on the hope of achieving an accurate image, then looks up the weather (another projection) just so that they can give up on that as well by again doubting the accuracy of the picture on the screen. Day always doubts once. (This is the sycophantic litany of turns we’ve become accustomed to.) But the dual doubting means Day is finally being truthful. I’m not saying two doubts cancel each other out and especially not saying that two doubts make a belief, but I am saying that two doubts lead to better poetry than one doubt expressed over and over again.

I’ll end with an analogy: Dalton Day is Drake. He uses stripped down and simple language to maximize emotional reaction while often sacrificing depth. The same recognizable turns are taken, and the same themes are worked with in slightly different iterations. The simplicity of the word choice, the similarity of the topics, and the everyman status of the speaker collide to create an occasionally successful and emotionally effective hybrid form of poetry. Because of Weather Or Not, I have hope that Day is done staring at his own navel all the time and half the time pretending it’s another person. It’s good not being together, and it’s starting to look like Day is beginning to be okay expressing just that. Weather or not we’re comfortable with that is up to us.

Blake Wallin is the author of the chapbooks Otherwise Jesus (Ghost City Press, 2015) and No Sign on the Island (Bottlecap Press, 2016) as well as the microchap The Lucidity of Giving Up (Ghost City Press, 2016).