Book Review – ‘Not Human Enough for the Census’ by Erik Fuhrer

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author.

In this collection of poetry and art, poet Erik Fuhrer and artist Kimberly Androlowicz create an apocalyptic-style rollercoaster of words and images. This is an exposé on the dark side of humanity; an exploration of how people ‘other’ the things they don’t understand or accept – including their inner selves. This happens in the context of environmental damage, and nature is humanised as it looks back at us with an unflinching stare. 

Fuhrer weaves an intense tapestry of reflection, presenting strong imagery. The titular section references humanity’s ambivalence to the other, referring to the way 

we never
gave a shit 
about bodies 
that did not
walk
upright


and how the fate of many is decided by a powerful few. 

‘Breathtrick’ is a visually engaging assembly. The stanzas here bring to mind falling ash or leaves, and reference destruction and endings with a deceptively sweet and lyrical tone:

the fruit of sorrow is red         fuller than moon
its skin tough as an eyelid and warm
            if you eat of it you will see everything holy
                        angels trembling wings of gold burning
                                    like newborn stars

The collection continues in this vein, in such sections as “Cockroach Anthem”, “Interlude”, “Thresholds”. The words veer strongly towards the experimental in “Interlude”, and Fuhrer makes excellent use of visual elements to capture a discordant soundscape, jolting and jarring the reader with exceptional effect. The wordplay here is complex and subtle and worthy of several immediate rereads, with each subsequent re-examination peeling away new layers of meaning. The cultural references here are tightly packed. The final section, “Treebutchers”, is a stunning warning about how humanity will be its own undoing without a change of direction. 

Artificial life, technology, ignorance, dominance – Erik spares no element of unsavoury human interaction with the world in this collection. He uses the space available on every page to great effect, spreading words in lines and columns to create a strong framework of optical meaning over which the words are laid. This creates a refreshing reading experience that is not one to immediately rush through, but to linger over and savour. Fuhrer’s language, in particular, is heavily populated with imagery and juxtaposed words which require attention. But for all the complexity here, there is a purity of feeling beneath these seemingly wild constructions suggestive of a very considered and deliberate approach, engineered to craft deeper considerations if one is prepared to slow down, and dig below the surface.

Kimberly Androlowicz’s art pieces are a perfect complement to the notion of depth beyond. Each one speaks to what lingers, just below, creating a sense of tension and unease and reinforcing the idea that there is more in the substrate of this book for those prepared to search. The pieces sit well together thematically and integrate beautifully with the poems.

This is not an easy book to read – it requires focus and engagement from the reader from the very first words, and it is absolutely worth the effort. In this time of global uncertainty, Erik and Kimberly take their reader by the arm and pull them forward, urging them to think on their actions, and perhaps choose a different, kinder path.

Not Human Enough for the Census is available now from Vegetarian Alcoholic Press.

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