The author of this guest review is Cassandra Gillig, who is 19 years old and lives in New Brunswick, NJ. She has chapbooks forthcoming from NAP and Love Symbol Press. She works at a library.
After some rigorous emotional blablahblah hit me hard this past week, I spent most of my time in a kind of mawkish, fragile state—something totally regressive and terrifying. I racked my brain for solutions to the way I was feeling but could not come up with anything that seemed natural or feasible.
Simultaneously, I was thinking a lot about I AM READY TO DIE A VIOLENT DEATH, Heiko Julien’s new ebook. The sarcastic tone of the title is, I think, painfully obvious, but there’s a bit of something to it: The notion that readiness for death is such a flippant item. That you can look at this terribly gorey end and go, “Okay, sounds good.” With even the most planned events, the emotional terror of it all will catch us off-guard. Is anyone ready for death?
When someone posted Heiko Julien’s I AM READY TO DIE A VIOLENT DEATH on Reddit this week, it received over 25,000 views in under 24 hours and reactions ranging from praise to disgust. Seeing the discussion was a reminder for me that the community I operate in (and perhaps you, too, if you follow the work of Heiko and me) is so self-contained. Is this a problem? In regards to the growth of new writers, certainly, but what is frighteningly “avant-garde” will always remain inaccessible due to distribution, disinterest in fame, etc. Heiko Julien’s writing will probably never appear in a major book store, and he will probably never be on a talk show to promote a new release. These are things that very few members of this community would find appealing, but why is this type of writing—the wonderfully honest and purely entertaining—so inaccessible? Heiko’s casual style isn’t incoherent and comforts not confuses.
Reddit users had the following things to say:
“His choice of capitalization is simply fascinating .”
“I would be so mad if I paid for that”
“seriously…this is dude must be bipolar. It goes from the funniest stuff I have ever read to the heaviest realizations imaginable.”
“Yeah, this stuff is actually really deep.”
“This is poetry and its actually pretty good.”
“A slightly more modern and incoherent Bukowski.”
These caught my eye because they made me laugh. It is so strange to see capitalization still striking people (and that the closest thing we have to Heiko in the modern canon is Bukowski). All of these comments seem to suggest primarily, though, that we are taking these beautiful things we are making and sharing them only with each other. And this is great for the community, but when was the last time you shared a book with someone who “doesn’t read much” or has a concept of poetry constructed from archaic volumes? It is frustrating to enter literary communities piloted by the mainstream, but maybe it should become our task to show people that whatever independent body we belong to—whether we want to call it “alt-lit” or just literature (because all of these things are hewn from the same language and attempt at experiencing life as it is presented to us)—has no reason to remain small and segregated? Everyone should be reading everything, because terrible reading experiences are learning experiences all the same.
Maybe seeing the Reddit thread didn’t have the same effect on others as it did me, but I cannot help but think there’s something alarming about people mistaking purposeful aesthetic choices for grammatical errors.
The things that impressed me about Heiko’s last effort return here in full force but are products of a more intense sense of temporality—an uninhibited eagerness coupled with the overwhelming finality of hyperbole. Always jarring clauses ripping you toward a new notion at the last moment. He writes, “there are consequences for this. / there are consequences for all the Shows that you watch. you were sitting on a couch for an hour.” He writes, “i can trace the root cause of my disillusionment with the human condition to finding out that all hair is dead.” He writes, “killing someone is a very intimate act and anyone who says otherwise is afraid of themselves and probably pretends girls dont poop or something. i will stare directly at a piece of shit, i dont even care.” And it seems so absurd to look into some totally aloof statement about poop beyond the surface level, but goddamnit if these things aren’t the most beautiful and necessary way of addressing the fact that fleeting moments need to be stared down and vilified. The way that Heiko weaves between this kind of desperation and a certain wistfulness in the pursuit of love and the declaration of desires is necessary and vital. Bursts of romanticism are trampled by these moments addressing love but seem to flourish in the face of it—stronger after impact, nearly.
Heiko’s writing is a sort of mock-autobiography (like lit’s version of the mockumentary, almost); it catches people off-guard because it is truthful yet absurd. It is uninhibited honesty smothered in smarmy jokes and one liners—the same kind of easy and satisfying emotional dodging we sometimes employ in real life. The sarcasm and irony is plentiful enough that it’s taken for granted. We call this poetry because we sometimes call things we don’t understand “poetry,” and that’s kind of funny yet harmful and weird. But we don’t really need a name for it—just to know that it’s out there and functioning is enough, I suppose.
Heiko doesn’t use proper punctuation and doesn’t always spell things right; these have never been devices that portray intellect, yet disheveled appearances—even those that function well in establishing aesthetic—are sometimes off-putting. There is a term, “fashionably distressed” for the things we buy that aspire to demonstrate aesthetics they could never properly represent. Heiko’s writing is—if anything—“necessarily distressed,” authentic in its missteps regardless of precalculation or inorganic creation.
I AM READY TO DIE A VIOLENT DEATH is mostly a work that proves both a futility and productiveness in confronting emotion—especially regarding death. To mock death is to become acquainted with its potential, to sidestep what is final and emerge unscathed. As readers, we can view works of comedy and minimalism as the “bare bones” basic items they sometimes appear to be—as frivolous entertainment—or take hold of the emotions that pilot them and use them to assess our own. The choice is yours.