Sundress Reads: Review of Future Sarcasm

In Future Sarcasm (Tolsun Books, 2020) through a series of short, connected poems, Michael Buckius prophesizes a future where all is bleak and desolate. The speaker acts as a tour guide to this reality, guiding the reader through a dystopic new normal, where donuts at a conference table are a nostalgia of the past, and body cryogenics is a favored hobby. Each scene is mimicked or depicted in some way through Doug Bale’s explosive art, line-drawn figures, and faces that are made strange by floods of color and oddities like clouds within heads or tree trunks as skeletons. Most of these interlinked, title-less poems are anaphoric, including the book’s refrain “in the future.” All of the poems—or perhaps it’s one poem cutting in and out like an old static radio—are fairly prosaic in their language and simple in their forms: short stanzas with conventional line breaks. The title of the collection plays prominently across the poems, sarcasm dripping heavily through the scenes Buckius depicts. In one, he writes:

Before the world ends
consider investing
in a suit of glass
It isn’t very comfortable
but damn, it looks good
Sometimes you have to suffer
for fashion (35)

Though the imagery is unrelenting and ominous, there is a dark wit that makes the sharpness of this future feel bearable or navigable. It’s as if the new landscape is an amalgam of George Orwell’s 1984 and Mitchell and Webb’s Peep Show; yes, “The future is a rat race” (3) but those who remain still have humor in their grasp: “Check out the / end of the world! / Bummer” (21). Much of Buckius’ future world is unidentifiable and foreign to people today:

In the future we will have four brains
a regular one
the government one
the one attached to your hand
and the heart-brain (13)

This strange concept is accompanied by its own illustration from Bale of a colorfully-headed person with a brain full of easter egg shapes, picked out in all the shades of a child’s paint pot, with additional faces and brains spilling forth, line-drawn in black and white. Indeed, every short poem by Buckius is preceded by an image from Bale in some vibrant hue, blasting back against the mundanity of the proposed future, as if the images have pilfered the color right from the words. But that is not to say that Buckius’ poems are bland or completely bleak.  A personal favorite is one of the only poems that points back to the America we know and love to critique, centering on New York City. Buckius declares: 

New York City is a great place to live
if you have a cool hat
That’s true now
and especially in the future (7)

This time the preceding image is not of Manhattan’s skyline—as one might expect—but a male figure fading into a desert heatwave, upending the reader’s understanding of how this text operates. America has been reimagined into a climate change wasteland, and these figures are barely existing in it.  There is a charm to this mundane new way of living, though many of the images are haunting or horrifying or both. The everyday has been turned on its head: the public pool has become “a suicide chamber” (19), implants “turn / multiple personalities / into multiple people,” (17) and “physical intimacy” is just a link back to the familiarity of the womb, easily replaced by computers (29). But there is still an impulse of humanity here, a sense of belonging or wanting to belong to something bigger, among this society’s chaos and collapse. 

Yes, these poems capture the memetic, pseudo-destructive energy that seems to have become the fight song of the Millenial generation. Towards the close, Buckius decrees:

It also shows your indifference
to the end of the world
Like, whatever dude
right? (33)

Buckius has a brilliant ability to build a world by using language sparingly, and Bale somehow pulls the seeds of these scenes into vibrant and vivid depictions that satiate even as they surprise. Buckius is a writer and filmmaker from Pennsylvania, who earned his MFA at Northern Arizona University, while Bale is a multimedia artist who illustrates, paints, and murals in his local Phoenix community. The poems in this peculiar and eclectic collection will tickle you and fill you with dread and delusion all at once. Welcome to the future.

Future Sarcasm is available at Tolsun Books

Shannon Wolf is a British writer and teacher, living in Louisiana. She is currently a joint MA-MFA candidate in Poetry at McNeese State University. She is the Non-Fiction Editor of The McNeese Review and Social Media Intern for Sundress Publications. She also holds an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University. Her poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction (which can also be found under the name Shannon Bushby) have appeared in The Forge and Great Weather for Media, among others. You can find her on social media @helloshanwolf.


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