Early in Pulver Maar, Zachary Schomburg tells the story of Wanda, who found a disembodied arm at the top of a mountain and “took out an ad in the newspaper./Whose arm? read the ad above a photograph/Wanda took of the arm. She wrote a song about it/on the piano, and sang the song out of her windows/every day. No one responded. No one claimed the/arm as their own.”
Schomburg, Portland’s most beloved surrealist poet, is known for work that—like “One Arm Wanda”—evokes a complex stew of emotions. Seemingly silly but carrying a strange emotional weight, his uneasy poems nod to a larger loneliness or disconnection.
Pulver Maar’s eight distinct sections are culled from a variety of Schomburg’s recent projects: a chapbook, a performance piece, a few poem cycles written for—or in homage to—other poets. The book opens with “Inside We Make Children Sandwiches,” a section Schomburg refers to in the book’s notes as “stories written for children.” With their simple language and magical elements, the pieces come off as folktales that are also radically different than most stories for children. (Gertrude Stein’s children’s book, The World Is Round, might be a close cousin.) While the section is the book’s shortest, it creates a template for what follows: Schomburg’s wide-eyed, imaginative, and fractured yet ostensibly simple stories.
In one tale, there’s a questionably wise cow advising a human to not “be so in love all/the time. Stop loving./Stop wanting to be loved./Stop loving yourself/so much. Stop letting/love into your life.” There’s a doctor whose job it is “to hold things. She held a baby/then she held a cat. She held some trophies/for being a doctor.” There are narrators who speak of their many shortcomings. “I have no chance to become mayor./No one would vote for me./ I have all the wrong answers./My pants have no pockets./I don’t know how to read,” says one. “[T]hings don’t work out for me./I hid the cash in the wrong cave./I’m the only thing tigers eat,” says another.
While the majority of the collection makes it clear that no one else writes or thinks quite like Schomburg, there are plenty of poems that feel like outtakes, or like they belong in a specific, separate context. But Pulver Maar should probably be treated as a “B-sides and rarities” collection more than a cohesive work meant to be read cover to cover. It’s a book to leave on a table so you can flip it open and have your mind-state briefly shifted by a story of a frightened piece of dust, an angry plate of pasta, or a house that dreams of being a stand-up comedian.