Monster Zero
 Jay Snodgrass
Language: English Release: 2002
Publisher: Elixir Press
Pages: 64
Genre: Fiction ISBN: 0970934262

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Back Cover
Nicholas Driscoll

Someone wrote a book of poetry ostensibly about Godzilla. This time, it's for real. Sort of.

Okay, some time ago I made the mistake of purchasing Godzilla Attacks a Truck, which (for my money at least) was a dungheap of dumb. I was hoping for Godzilla-themed poetry; what I got was a haiku haku ("haku" is the Japanese verb for "vomit"—sorry, couldn't resist, even if it makes no grammatical sense) with a kid's scribble included deliberately for the sake of "art." Jay Snodgrass's Monster Zero, on the other hand, is indeed a book with many poems "about" Godzilla, with titles like "Godzilla Dreamed of a Man Planting Rice" (sounds Asian-themed at least) and "Godzilla vs. Iguanadon" (that sounds promising, but is actually about a woman who gets a ride in a car), as well as titles like "Godzilla Remembers Himself as an Angel of Mercy" (oh, no, I am getting flashbacks to Godzilla is in Purgatory) and "Godzilla in Drag" (… I got nothing). So what are these poems like? Are they really about Godzilla? Do any of the other monsters show up? What's the deal?

Well… the answer is that the poems are at least kinda-sorta about Godzilla. And at least one other monster shows up—"King Ghidera." (Apparently Snodgrass couldn't be bothered to do a quick Internet search to find the right spelling.) Ghidera appears in "Three Thousand Feet Under Bikini Atoll" and "Godzilla in Drag," and in both poems "Godzilla" is presented as I am guessing either a girl monster or a transvestite; in the latter, Godzilla and Ghidera have a one-night-stand. Ghidera is a womanizer (his different heads are constantly scoping for new conquests), and he is no good in the sack.

Yeah, I didn't want to know that, either.

But why Godzilla? Is the Godzilla here actually supposed to be the Japanese Godzilla we know and love?

Answering that question is somewhat difficult. This is poetry, after all, and in this case, not always particularly straightforward poetry. Snodgrass's chosen style is far removed from haiku—he has chosen free verse, which means no rhyme and little form. Much of his poetry, too, is dealing with abstract concepts—he touches on existential and epistemological topics, and often wades deep in despair and hopelessness (or at least that was my reading). His poetry is broken into three sections—Planet One, Planet Negative One, and Planet Zero. Both the first and last sections feature many poems "about" Godzilla. Planet Negative One, on the other hand, is a collection of "confessions," which mostly explore Snodgrass's childhood, and seem to reveal one of the central conceits of his poetry—that he is Godzilla.

The conceit essentially goes like this. Snodgrass grew up in Japan as a foreigner who never knew the language. He never fit in. Presumably he was bigger than most other kids and treated like an outsider by the locals. He always wanted to move to the States. When he visited the Hiroshima Peace Museum, a drunk geezer cornered him and blamed him for the atomic bomb. So Snodgrass is doing something kind of interesting here—taking his experiences as a bumbling, presumably large and inarticulate American youth in Japan with transplanted war-guilt, and projecting those experiences, thoughts, and feelings into the avatar of Godzilla. I am not sure, though, if that means Snodgrass is a transvestite, or if some of the Godzilla poems are just exercises in absurdity ("Godzilla in Drag" seems to be an exercise in ludicrousness, with full-sized monsters cavorting and mating and arguing while smashing a city). Some of the "Godzilla" poems do not even mention the Big G (such as "Godzilla Visits Camus in Hell" and the aforementioned "Godzilla vs. Iguanadon"). Often I don't know quite what Snodgrass is trying to say. Often I am not sure he knows either. Some of his sentences just don't seem to make any sense—to wit, from Second Confession:

"Don't you know how everything radiates out from the sun like seeing itself, becoming outright; challenging itself like the simple undercurrent of the self?" (pg. 24)

Some of the lines reminded me (again…) of Godzilla is in Purgatory. Reading the line "Something is coming for me, which means something is coming" (pg 38), I couldn't help but remember David Smith's classic line: "Twelve is twelve because twelve means a lot." Of course, there is a very good chance I just don't understand what Snodgrass is trying to do with a lot of his poetry, given my lack of interest or training in the form (one poetry class over ten years ago doesn't count for much). Some of them have bizarre and vivid imagery—black alveoli sunning themselves in thongs, for example. Still, beneath the often whiplash-inducing sentences, I often thought there was something deeper that Snodgrass was gunning for, something thoughtful and sad. Snodgrass comes across as a morose, broken, yet striving man, trying to grow, while still in lethal combat with his insecurities and mistakes from the past. Even though I don't think the poems are especially great (and I even found some mistakes here), some of them are thought-provoking or at least speak to deep felt experiences. (That being said, I think some of the poems are just radioactive sewage, but I digress.)

No, Godzilla fans won't find a lot to love in Monster Zero, despite the scattered references to Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965). (Along with "Ghidera," the monster-controlling aliens of Planet X are mentioned, as is the victory dance. One poem also seems to refer to the Shogun Warriors Godzilla toy.) Nevertheless, Snodgrass is doing something new and different with Godzilla and kaiju, and, unlike many of the other (very strange) "Godzilla" books I have reviewed for TK, this one actually dwells at great length on Godzilla, or at least plays with the meaning of Godzilla in bizarre and idiosyncratic ways. I am not a big fan of Snodgrass's work here, but I can respect some of it, and I certainly respect him for pursuing his dreams and stretching himself as a person.