The Apocalyptic Mannequin by Stephanie Wytovich
Raw Dog Screaming Press (September 2019)
114 pages, $13.95 paperback; $4.99 e-book
Reviewed by Joshua Gage
The Apocalyptic Mannequin is a collection of poetry about the apocalypse, and those who survived. Wytovich attempts to tap into the emotions of survivors with her poetry, creating a cast of characters who explore their fears and pain; however, while there are some really inventive ideas and clever survivor stories in this collection, the majority of the poems ultimately fall short due to craft issues.
For example, the poem “Dead People Down Here” features a great character. The speaker of the poem is issuing a warning for the ambiguous “Down Here,” a place where survivors have come to settle, but most likely die. One can easily imagine a person like this in a post-apocalyptic waste, someone prophesying the true nature of the world and what really happens to survivors.
This is your last warning.
I’ve tried to help you, to let you know that
empty stomachs are more dangerous than
whatever is screaming outside in the dark,
that desperate parents will do anything
to feed their child, to provide warmth
regardless of what the blanket is made of.
If you keep walking, it’s your own fault.
This is a fairly typical example of Wytovich’s poetry. It’s establishing a situation and scenario in a post-apocalypse, but it’s not really offering anything poetic. The hallmarks of poetry—rich imagery, creative metaphors, lyrical rhythms, etc.—are all missing from these poems. One gets situations and characters, but not poetry, to the point that this book almost reads like a series of short monologues rather than poems.
To be fair, there are some occasions where Wytovich shows skill as a poet. For example, “A Collection of Pomegranate Seeds” begins
An assortment of bones rests in my front yard
I can’t remember the last time I watered the flowers,
they wilted, starved in a vase on the kitchen table,
their colors drained in pools of pink and white
on the linoleum floor.
Here we’re offered, at least for four lines, an underlying rhythm to propel the poem forward. We’re also provided with clear visual imagery that can anchor the reader in the poem. The lines are a bit cluttered, certainly, but there’s enough here for a reader to grasp onto. This tends not to be the case for the majority of Wytovich’s poems in this collection, however.
Overall, if readers come to The Apocalyptic Mannequin looking for poetry, they’re going to be more disappointed than not. There are a few pieces in this collection that stand out as poems, but not many. However, if readers come to the collection as fans of horror, specifically post-apocalyptic horror, and read this collection as a series of characters detailing the survivor tales of a nightmare world, they’ll probably enjoy it.