Wednesday, March 07, 2012
From the Psycho Ward Level 1 Critical, by Howard Yosha
(pb; 2010: poem anthology/chapbook, sort of)
From the back cover:
"From the Psycho Ward Level 1 Critical is the 7th chapbook of poetry written by Howard Yosha. During 2009 and 2010 Howard ran the 1/2 Marathon in Orange County, California. Became paralyzed with Cauda Equina, had stays in 3 hospitals, 3 ambulance rides, when to rehab hospital and the Psycho Ward Level 1 Critical. Many of these poems were written from the hospital bed."
Psycho Ward is best read as an experimental scrap book, an uneven mix of paintings, photos, journal entries and poems. Readers approaching this anthology, as I initially did, as a straightforward poetry chapbook, may be disappointed, even dismayed by it, especially after paying thirty bucks for it(self-publishing a book with color photos and artwork is expensive, something Psycho Ward's price likely reflects).
I'll start with what I didn't like about the anthology, so I can end the review on a positive, balance-all-elements note.
Psycho Ward, with its self-conscious/convert-zeal tone, has too much dry-medical fact telling, not enough showing, flaws that are exacerbated by Yosha's constant referencing of his name (referencing oneself once, maybe twice in an anthology works; anything beyond that either reads as Amateur Hour Writing, satire or grand-standing). To be fair, the didactic, adhere-to-explicit names and facts tone of Psycho Ward does potently reflect the anger, terror, resultant activism and spiritual enlightenment of Yosha's experiences.
Approximately half of the twenty-six pieces in this anthology read like writing exercises or plot summations for works that need to be fleshed out, built upon with images and other sensory information, e.g. "30 Day Psychiatric Exercise - I Am Thankful for my parents", which while undoubtedly sincere, and experimental/different, fails as a poem: while I admire Yosha for his willingness to be open to different styles and formatting, this was too dry and generic - there was no personality to this, no sense of him, nor of his parents. Unless he was structure-referencing a self-help or religious mantra, this shouldn't have been included in Psycho Ward.
The same goes for "Fight for your life", which, while reinforcing (and building upon, a little bit) previous poems, isn't diverse enough in its language to justify - for this reader - it being included in the book; as it is, it reads like a repetitive work, not a theme-progressive work.
Yosha clearly has intensity and drive, as well as the aforementioned willingness to try new forms, but the mix-and-match format of Psycho Ward, if this is where his headspace and current work resides, does little to recommend him at this juncture; that said, there are flashes of good, even excellent writing in this anthology.
I am referring only to his writing, by the way. His artwork and photos are good to this non-painter/-photographer's eyes, but, on a practical pricing level, it might bode better for Yosha's sales if he cut down on how many photos and paintings he put into anthologies - at least for now, until someone else is footing the bill, paying him, for his collections.
What I also liked about Psycho Ward are works like the theme-progressive and -different, as well as playful "In Jerusalem", which, in its entirety, reads:
"Three blind mice now see
After a miracle Hokey, Pokey and Jokey
Crossed the street, losing their mind
In Jerusalem they became Jesus, Mary and Joseph"
These theme-evolving not-quite-asides, many of which arrive in the second half of the anthology, show Yosha's talent, unmarred by his experimental lack of editing.
Other standout poems that I enjoyed:
"Journal Mining" - Good use of free-form flow and imagery; reads naturally, without obtrusive medical references or preaching.
"The Survivors" - This sports the same virtues as "Journal Mining".
"Do you want to get married for 99 cents" - Silly, playful, smile-inducing goofiness.
"The Great Depression or, The Second Great Depression" - Intense burst of poetic outrage, and a good snapshot of America's present-day politics.
"Manic episode where I wanted to change my name from Yosha to Joshua" - Reader-engaging hospital tale-verse.
"Jesus Definition" - Interesting, different piece; great exit line.
"Psy Lauren" - Alliterative poem, effective in its humor.
"Devil Bloom" - Excellent flow and imagery to this.
"The Church of Me" - Good language and flow in this one; this anthology capper has a fitting finish, poetic summation and progression of the anthology's self-improvement theme.
What it comes down to is this: at least half of Psycho Ward's poems should have been cut from the book, to be edited (or melded) into better, show-don't-tell pieces - and Yosha's talent-shine pieces, the ones that worked, should have been formatted as a section, perhaps sporting this anthology's title, in a larger and better-edited anthology.
That Yosha has talent, I have no doubt; I also believe - hope - that Yosha's other six books reflect that fervid talent, and, as he grows (as an artist and a man), he'll find his voice, natural and unfettered by the flaws I've mentioned in this stinging but constructive review.
While I can't recommend Psycho Ward for its print price and flaws, I can recommend that you keep an eye out for Howard Yosha as an artist in future books and (possibly) art shows.
For e-book readers: Psycho Ward is also available as an e-book, for $6.49