Skip to main content

Survival Tips for the Pending Apocalypse by Shawn Pavey, reviewed by Rusty Barnes

Survival Tips for the Pending Apocalypse
Shawn Pavey
154 pages
Spartan Press
May 30 2019
reviewed by Rusty Barnes

Shawn Pavey's book Survival Tips for the Pending Apocalypse has been on my radar for some time. I travel in or closely observe the outskirts of a lot of different poetry scenes, and one of them is the midwestern ethos of Spartan Press and Stubborn Mule, among some others I am unfamiliar with yet. The poets strike me, in general. as fellow-travelers in the best sense of the word, with varied points of view united under an umbrella of beat poet, confessional poet, Tom Waits or Bukowski-oriented. Some of that can go a long way, if you know what I mean. I am pleased to report that among those fellow-travelers Shawn Pavey is someone well worth paying more attention to.

In his introduction, Mike James rightly--after reading it , how could you not?-- mentions the first quietly strong poem of this long but never meandering collection. "Autobiography" tells us more about the speaker in a few lines than we get in most poems. We know he leads "a quiet life in my place every day," "middle-aged and soft around the middle in the middle of America. where he is "fair to middlin." Note here the narrator as someone who first of all is a poet, a listener to all the things we say to one another in our own complex autobiographies, where the path of admitting everything, bad and good, brings out vulnerability, a necessity for a poet especially.

Speaking of necessities, In the title poem "Survival Tips for the Pending Apocalypse" Pavey's tips include stocking up on Texas Pete Hot Sauce plus cabbage and carrots for cole slaw, "because you can't descend/ into full-blown goddamned savagery just yet." This very funny poem finishes strong:

Stock up on ten-penny nails
and hundred-dollar bourbon:

nails to fix the shit you know will break
and bourbon to fix the shit you can't.

Get used to drinking hundred-dollar bourbon.

I don't know about you, but when the shit goes down I'm headed for Pavey's fallout shelter. He'll have the good stuff. I'll trade him a couple three banty roosters for a bottle of Maker's Mark. It's the apocalypse after all. I'll go cheap.

I should mention before closing, too, that there are good lines on nearly every page. When mentioning the aftereffects of a lunar eclipse, we get lines that "[fill] a hole in the sky as big as life/as big as all this", or later on in another poem where "seeds of/ prairie grasses crack secret in the loam, yearn for/wildfires of blanketing shoots." You might quibble with breaking the line on 'of' there but the overall impact is solid.

Along with good lines, the poems fairly burst with insight. Some of them are the tried and trusted of poets everywhere, but some snap with ferocity as in "Hollow Point" where the poet repeats "all the hollow points/ hollowing bleeding bodies/these hallowed bodies of the dead." Some linger in the mind, as the aftereffects of a young boy soft-shoeing on a nearly finished sand mandala burst bright for a moment and then fade. All in all, really fine lines in good, often great poems.

This is poetry that wears its influences boldly, without shame, and will reward a patient reader who can dig an earthy poem next to a sentimental poem, meteor showers next to burst mandalas, side by side with prairie wisdoms, all of them parts of a solid collection I'll return to again and again. 4.0 stars.


Popular posts from this blog

Amy Holman

My mother made herself the deer with a broken leg 
We saw a deer through the pane into someone else’s yard. The leg moved like a tube sock pinned to the hip  and half filled with sticks. I did not like to see it suffer,
either. She was upset —my mother —that no one helped  the doe. Was it a mother, too? As if we were the first to observe the scene. We weren’t. All had been told to
let her be. My mother had suffered a destruction  of the self, a divorce, and no one cared. That wasn’t true.  We were grown, on our own. I agree it was hard. Yet 
in those moments of a cold November day, we watched  a doe, disabled and enduring, walk across a yard and eat  a hedge. I wish she could have seen it like that.
Amy Holman is the author of the collection, Wrens Fly Through This Opened Window (Somondoco Press, 2010) and four chapbooks, including the prizewinning Wait for Me, I’m Gone (Dream Horse Press, 2005). Recent poems have been in or accepted by Blueline, concis, Gargoyle, The Westchester Revie…

June Poem Reviews

I've had fiction and non-fiction reviews published in quite a few journals and have been a member of the National Book Critics Circle, when I could afford it. Therefore, I feel quasi-professional in those arenas. I don't necessarily feel that way about my poetry reviews. I have opinions, though, and in the interest of keeping my poetry-mind occupied during an otherwise stressful time in my life, I'd like to make you, the poetry world, an offer. If you mail me your chapbook or book--at least 24 pages but no more than 100 pages, self-published or traditional--I will post a review of between 150 and 300 words about it, as professionally as I can, in the following months. Promise. Mail me your book, get a review. Easy. If I get a huge response, I'll declare a cap and communicate it here. I would prefer to work from print copies. I hate reading poetry in PDF or MOBI--my preferred methods for prose--because the lines never break correctly and I find myself critiquing lineati…


No Mote
black swans i almost didnt see
but for their glowy beaks
red as sumac- they didnt match
the dark tones of lake, stuck out
like your lust for me while i read to
the children all cloistered- who could
hear me even from the colonnade,
all hickory and hops-vine, where
i saw you watch me from inside
a white willow tree.

mergansers with their heads trailing
swam among dead stakes of lotus.
that belted kingfisher bode us a
good day, and returned the
children to their cages below bald
cypress knees so naked i had
to look away.

you willowed no longer, i took leaf to mean wing, and feather to mean ivy. i took a shaded path back
to the armory. it got hot and thick
and i could breathe more heavily,
rapt on high, no mote of hope.

Bree is a poet and visual artist living in Pleasureville, KY. Her Green Panda Press has put out hand-made chapbooks, anthologies and sundry of the very small art and poetry press since 2001. In 2015 she began Least Bittern Books out of Henry County, KY with a focus on poetry paperbacks b…