Review of Meditations of a Beast by Kristine Ong Muslim – Michael Rush

++++One of the pleasures of reviewing work from a writer whom I’ve never read before is that I am able to enter into their work without any preconceived notions regarding the content. Although that openness is valuable in any honest appraisal, I found it especially useful for Meditations of a Beast as it was such a densely-layered collection and it allowed me to be fully awake to the nuances of the world created within.

++++In the atmospheric opening Genesis I saw the juxtaposition of everyday imagery underpinned with a negative claustrophobic energy. However, more strikingly, Section I seemed to take inspiration from the Corona sequence technique, where the final line of each part was cribbed to become the first line of the next. I think it is worth noting that four of the pieces from this section were published as standalone poems, which illustrates that as well as being written within a greater narrative, there is appeal in each individual poem.

++++Although the title of this collection might lead you to believe it will delve into a macabre underworld, I found only hints of the ethereal here and, for the most part, we are grounded in the routine tangible elements of life – albeit a life interspersed with a sense of horror derived from tone and unease at contextual elements.

++++Section II continued to evoke a sense of journey with pieces heavily influenced by a theme of crime, relying on moments like the end of Kleptomania and its reference to a body burning “at the stake” to jolt us back to a deeper context. It’s hard to escape the idea of being sucked in by this section; each poem’s reality seems to grow more twisted, almost coming full circle back to a calmness epitomised by Man with the radio seemingly listening to the static we, as readers, experience while searching for melody.

++++When I write of each poem having its own reality, perhaps it would be better stated as each one having its own place within the book’s world. Section III comes from a new place within that world, and is one inhabited by Dolls. This is no pastiche of Chucky, however, and its freely-switching perspectives remain true to the conceits developed throughout the book. Still Hiding provides an eerie example of that, evoking the sense of claustrophobia I mentioned in Genesis alongside an observation of the very person listening to static from Man with the radio. It achieves the effect of making the world created in Meditations of a Beast seem even more confined yet, perversely, even greater in size and scope for the different sets of eyes we see it through.

++++Section IV cements the idea of a journey throughout the author’s world with direct address to everything which dwells there: one by one, using haunting repetition, inanimate objects are challenged about their history “before [they] came here”, all of which – and I almost used ‘whom’, such is the strength of personification – knew horror before they found the world created by the book.

++++Although the later poems which conclude section IV feel more distant, thematically speaking, I feel there is still some excellent standalone material. The disturbing narrative presented as footnotes to P is for Pavlov’s Best Friend certainly left a mark on me.

++++The series of nautical pieces to end the book create a literal and figurative flood and a sharp reminder that this book is capable of surprises with its core themes and the author’s ability to craft poetry and prose pieces with a mixture of subtle and overt links to each other.



Meditations of a Beast by Kristine Ong Muslim is available from Cornerstone Press. You can find more from the author at her website here.