Only The Dead by Wolfgang Carstens and Janne Karlsson

Only The Dead by Wolfgang Carstens and Janne KarlssonIntermingling poetry and illustration, Carstens and Karlsson remove the barrier between sound and vision, bringing the reader closer to a holistic experience. By mirroring the constant input of multiple senses that life provides, they make the reader more deeply live the collection, making the chap book both the message and the application.

This chapbook contains three poems by Carstens on the subject of death, with black and white illustrations by Karlsson. Alternatively, this chapbook contains 36 pages of illustrations by Karlsson, glossed by Carstens.

But, however you choose to measure the collection, it’s true worth lies in the combination of the two art forms. Replacing the whitespace of standard poetry with images, the artists provide a gestalt of two perspectives: Karlsson’s sphere-headed zombies evoke a fear of death, but speak in Carstens’ language of acceptance; Carstens’ polemic against apathy plays across Karlsson’s footage of an afterlife resting on a bed well-padded with memories.

The eponymous poem opens with a repeated structure of ‘The living X. Only the dead Y’, creating a comparison between the trivial complaints of the living and the gratitude of the dead that they existed at all, before shifting to a list of experiences the dead celebrate. This echoing of the ups and downs of life followed by the certainty of death, while having the pleasures of life come only from the mouths of the dead, both warns of the brevity of life and offers hope that all discomfort is transitory.

Only The Dead Page
(© Wolfgang Carstens & Janne Karlsson. Fair use for review.)

This message is even more overt in the second poem, ‘Life is’. Opening with the line ‘Life is too short to waste’ it mixes words and images of both hope and risk before shifting to an equally stark depiction of the ruthlessness needed to gather real meaning rather than fleeting comfort from life.

The third work, ‘All’, is the shortest of the three at only three pages. Where the preceding works contrasted the living and the dead, both descriptions and images, this work ends with unity; the living and the dead in the same frame. While maintaining the message that life should be lived to the full because the only thing that we take into death is the life we have lived, it reveals the fear of death as just another obstacle to living. We must live today because we might die tomorrow, but we shouldn’t constrain how we live today in the hope we won’t die tomorrow.

Overall I enjoyed this collection greatly. I recommend it to anyone seeking quality rather than width from their poetry.

I received a free copy from the author in exchange for a fair review.

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