by Danniel Schoonebeek
YesYes Books, $16 (paper)
Few debut collections combine innovative technique, post-confessionalism, and social critique as authoritatively as Daniel Schoonebeek’s American Barricade. Exploring the interplay of economic and psychic obstacles to progress and happiness, the book’s calculatedly irregular punctuation and syntax and diverse forms make for a work of perpetual shifting, uncertainty, and dread. “Waste of a man, says the little god who stands in my doorway this morning, get out of bed.” Efforts to master one’s self and environment don’t quite bear fruit; in “Itinerary (New Colossus),” Schoonebeek writes, “Heidegger tells me three dangers threaten thinking: / one I call liberty, one I call oats, one I call what I owe.” Despite broader social concerns, Schoonebeek’s primary focus is the family, where laconic fathers and neglectful mothers reflect their environment’s economic desperation. “Waiting for her to finish washing her face off and mother // who was king to me in those days,” he opens one poem, enjambment forcing “mother” to shift from verb to noun, emphasizing a desire to be mothered and her looming monstrosity. “Nectarines,” the book’s most conventionally narrative piece, portrays a dejected man-boy whose Faulknerian obsession with his sister borders on the licentious: “I had a very expensive sister . . . . / She had a navel so big / I dreamed I would drown inside.” Formal innovation peaks in “Lullaby (Coup),” a visual poem resembling a family tree, but whose subject matter remains largely political. With its limitless invention, emotional force, and profound social relevance, American Barricade is a groundbreaking first book and stands to influence the aesthetic disposition of its author’s generation.