Review – ‘in which i take myself hostage’ by Erik Fuhrer

I received an advance copy of this book from the author.

Poet Erik Fuhrer returns with in which I take myself hostage, another collaboration with artist Kimberly Androlowicz (you can read my musings on not human enough for the census here). Once again, Fuhrer and Androlowicz excavate the act of being human; this time going further into the contrast between the natural and manmade worlds, and how humanity fits (or doesn’t) into each of them.

Fuhrer begins in the organic, with the building blocks of the body – blood, bone, teeth. Then he moves to the mind, examining the act of fitting in, and the ways in which humans try to alter themselves to do so. There is an interlude of knowingness from the natural world where science and nature collide and here is the moment of recognition – the powerful moment of self acceptance and realisation of the destructiveness of conformity, summed up beautifully in these words:
and I am also fucking beautiful 
just perhaps not beautiful 
in the way you want me to be 

From here Fuhrer leans into the industrial, and the harshness of it against the natural. The language here captures the cityscape – walls, glass, ledges – in a way that contrasts perfectly with the newly discovered self-realisation. Finally, there is a return to the organic – to tissue, to animals, to felt sensation. At this point, even a sense of belonging in one’s own body is a contested notion.

As always, Fuhrer’s use of form leverages the page and the white space around the stanzas allows each one to breathe. It also acts as a visual guide for the reader, encouraging pause and reflection. The eye is drawn to key phrases and the enjambment effect of the spacing leads the reader along a path of double meanings and subtle layering of different stories. This is a hallmark of Fuhrer’s poetry.

Language is key to the mood of the poems in this collection and the word choices bring each vignette to life. ‘The walrusy/sponginess/of my skin’ sits in direct contrast to ‘a microprocessor/to see if I could/project a hologram’. The words of nature have soft consonants and long vowels, while the words of industry are full of harder consonants and shorter vowels. The differences are clear when the poems are read aloud and this linguistic deliberation adds a further layer of resonance. 

Androlowicz’s paintings are a perfect complement to Fuhrer’s words. In turns melting with natural, earthy tones and harsher, more industrial colours, the textures in the works beckon the fingertips to touch them. Technique here has produced a wonderful contrast in both colour and line, with soft edges and blends sitting against crisp blocks of colour that reflect the sharpness of industry described in the poems. The paintings seem almost a visual manifestation of the word sounds and the effect is seamless. 

The concept of acceptance, of belonging, is a central part of the human condition. Fuhrer and Androlowicz’s journey through competing worlds highlights the possibility of simultaneously desiring this acceptance, and rejecting it at the same time, and the turmoil of sitting between two worlds and not feeling entirely at home in either of them. This collection is a stunning followup to not human enough for the census and will be at home on the shelves of anyone who’s ever felt like they didn’t quite work the way they should.

in which i take myself hostage is available for preorder now from Spuyten Duyvil Press.

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