Review: “Behind, All You’ve Got”
Behind, All You’ve Got, by E. Kristin Anderson
Semiperfect Press, 2020, $7
In her latest chapbook, Behind, All You’ve Got (Semiperfect Press, 2020), poet E. Kristin Anderson delves deeper into her meticulous reinvention of 1990s pop culture; this time, she digs into the depths of video games. Reading through the poems, I could sense an air of familiarity. The sci-fi and fantastical settings jogged distant memories from my childhood that I couldn’t quite place; the writing has an instructional, analytical quality. It wasn’t until reading the poem “This stuff disappears” that I realized, “hold on, this is from Metroid.” And, in fact, all of the poems take their cues from the world of vintage video gaming: erasure poems composed from the excerpts of Nintendo Power magazines, including guides on Metroid II: Return of Samus, F-Zero, Batman: Return of the Joker, and more. With her writing prowess, Anderson mystifies these guides and breathes new life into them.
Anderson’s poems are complex, filled with a multitude of images and sensory detail: “This screaming / is the nemesis, the mind / and might shutting down / the feint of heart.” But there are messages and meanings that can be drawn from them. In her poem, “Battle a Man,” a poem based on the old game ActRaiser—in which one plays as a deity looking to cleanse the world of evil and restore a population of worshipers—she seems to allude to a toxic relationship: “His monster: your bridges swarming / with green. Fading memories.” While many of the poems feel like they’re building a world, there also is an element of self-help, as if the speaker is advising internal change: “Fall away, higher when both move / in transformation.”
Often, this transformation raises a call to action. The piece “This stuff disappears,” alludes, as well, to Plato’s allegory of the cave: “The catacombs have energy. / Your mission, the fire.” The speaker holds readers responsible, asking us to “Shake up open chambers, / flooded down; / that key is an eye, open, / quick to continue stinging.” We’re being asked to see beyond walls and to fight—not a message I was expecting from a poem based off a video game. But Anderson pulls it off expertly.
With erasure poems, one often can be limited by the words themselves and the intent of the source text from which one is working–but not Anderson. Instead, she lifts the mundanity of video game guides to new heights, filled with magic, whimsy, and something deeply profound. In her foreword, she tells us, “May you always find magic when you need it.” If you’re looking for it, I strongly suggest starting with this collection.