By Abby Wojcik
Assistant Features Editor
Justin Karcher Book Review Article
“In the cradle of civilization, not being able / To reverse a curse is something that everyone has in common. / Fate has a way of putting in front of us / That which we most try to leave behind.” Justin Karcher ‘07, recently came out with his newest chapbook of poems centered around Buffalo and various themes of intimacy, loneliness, disappointment, relationships, and more.
This collection of poems, titled “When Severed Ears Sing You Songs,” was inspired by the idea of being an addict in the city of Buffalo. It contains ten poems, each unique in style and subject, and Karcher explained that “all those poems are connected, and I didn’t realize they were connected, but they all kind of tell this story of trying to conquer addiction in a town that’s constantly addicted.”
As Karcher’s second published work and his most recent, “When Severed Ears Sing You Songs” succeeds to convey the underground raw beauty of Buffalo. It is published by CWP Collective Press, a small publishing company that works to spread the poetry of local Buffalo writers to a wider audience. All of their books are handmade by their team and sold online via their website.
One of the central themes to the book is intimacy because Karcher finds it so fascinating in this day and age. “Everyone is constantly on this same circle of wanting to experience this special kind of intimacy but not ever realizing it,” Karcher explained. “I’ve always wondered if that was due to constant texting or constant social media. My overall theory is that people, like 35 and younger, are completely not in touch with their emotions . . . A lot of times with these poems, I try to determine what these emotions mean.”
Karcher tries to redefine these emotions in the context of figuring it out in the middle of being involved in a relationship, that may or may not be healthy, in the setting of the place you consider home. This is manifested in his poetry through the conversational style of it.
In several of the poems, an idea or thought is explored deeply until a sudden interruption that makes the poem shift. Karcher considers this to be similar to “how, if you are talking to your friends and telling a story, and you’re really into the story, and you think you have it all figured out, but then you undersell what you’ve experienced because . . . the people around you might be bored.”
Karcher’s poems bring various scenes of the city to life such as Elmwood Village, the Niagara River, Grant Street, and the Alleyway Theater. He finds Buffalo inspiring and the perfect setting for his chapbook because “it’s very impossible to hit rock bottom in Buffalo,” Karcher commented. “That’s my own opinion because Buffalo beats itself up all the time. So given the bad luck of the city and how small-town mentality it is, it’s basically impossible to decide, ‘I’m going to hit rock bottom so I can start a new chapter’ because you can never really start a new chapter.”
While this view may seem fairly pessimistic and bleak, Karcher tries to provide a silver lining. He brings together these poems about drinking too much because they are also about “what it’s like to kind of try to conquer your own self destruction in a town that is constantly self destroying itself,” Karcher expressed.
He compares Buffalo to an unhealthy relationship, saying, “As much as you want to pull away and be like, ‘this isn’t good for my development,’ you keep constantly answering those calls in the middle of the night from Buffalo . . . Like, ‘I know it’s unhealthy’ but in the back of my head, I’m like, ‘One of these days it’s going to be healthy. They just need to pick up their pieces and figure it out.’”
While Buffalo tends to bring Karcher disappointment, he remains hopeful. “In the back of my mind [I’m] always hopeful that Buffalo is going one day to submerge and be completely full of resurgence and renaissance and [be] healthy,” he said. This metaphor is one that potentially all of Buffalo can relate to, in one way or another.
Karcher has spent months drafting and editing these poems and is incredibly proud of the final product. “It’s nice having these final products put out, ‘cause it’s like . . . closing down a chapter,” he said. “So I’m always ecstatic when I put something together.” This artistic completion brings a sense of fulfillment and marks a milestone in a writer’s progress.
With this specific book of poetry in mind, Karcher strives to bring light to “the importance of understanding that language can be catharsis and should be catharsis. It’s very important for us to use the tools of beauty that we have, such as language and putting together words and seeing things differently and putting together the pieces to figure out the mystery of why someone is unfulfilled, or why the city is unfulfilled.”
He compares poetry to being a detective like Sherlock Holmes: only you create the mysteries and then also create the clues to figure it out. And a poem may not come up with the answer, which also contributes to the beauty of it.
Karcher made it explicit that he loves Buffalo, as one can see from the fact he graduated from Canisius and then went to Buffalo State for his Master’s degree. He is constantly giving back to the city and contributing to the literary scene, which is growing and gaining attention, thanks to local poets like himself. There are various poetry readings all over the city in places such as Rust Belt Books, Gypsy Parlor, and Nietzsche’s.
Justin Karcher has several projects in-the-works, including two other books, and is also currently working on compiling poems from forty of Buffalo’s best poets under 40. He is editing this along with some help through Road Less Traveled Productions, and it is anticipated to be a very impressive final product. It is accepting submissions now until April 30 and will be published around December 2017.
A more personal project of Karcher’s that is to come out sooner will be a mini, online chapbook about Kanye West and depression. It will be published this summer in a series by Ghost City Press. They will publish one book for every day of the summer, so there will be plenty of poetry to fill all summer reading lists.
If you are at all interested in literature, poetry, or supporting up-and-coming local artists, you should read Justin Karcher’s work in one way or another. “When Severed Ears Sing You Songs” is an incredibly compelling work that will not disappoint. From dark images and melancholy tones comes this idea: “I can’t help but think good can come / From something that is broken.”