I bought Light Sweet Crude from dancing girl press after reading an excerpt from the site, because I liked the writing style—it had a lot of interesting, incongruous metaphors and images. I received it two weeks later and proceeded to read through it, first in a fragmented, on-and-off manner, and then in one sitting. I think reading it twice helped me appreciate the poems both individually and as a whole. The book is a collaboration between two poets, Cynthia Barounis and Claire Leeds. The series of poems in this chapbook arose from “two poems, individually written, each addressing the topic of oil scarcity and natural resource depletion”—a description taken from the front of the book. The order of the poems in the book follows the original; they are written in response to each other, and are all somewhat focused on the idea of oil and depletion.
I was intrigued as to how this seemingly specific idea could inspire so many poems. Rather than revolving around the subject, as I expected, the poems focus on other topics, but still manage to relate an aspect of the poem to the idea of oil and the tension between its role and that of sustainable energy. One poem, “After Rabbits,” describes the escape of the classroom chameleon, only mentioning its “skin changing quick, / more liquid than the rainbow swirl of oil / on pavement”. This is the only explicit mention of oil in the entire poem; as such, the poems can be seen as ones that are informed by oil and its shortage, as well as the political ramifications of fossil fuels; however, they do not dwell specifically on them. I think this sort of narrative thread throughout the entire chapbook tied the entire thing together without making the ideas or themes tired or unoriginal.
As far as the chapbook design, I think it had a lot of potential that wasn’t fully executed in the making. The cover is fairly ordinary—a picture of a few windmills, a reflection on the idea of oil and alternative energy; the design is standard (at least, I guess so?) chapbook stitching. I think there was some potential in pointing out which author wrote which poem, so as to highlight the fact it was a dialogue—perhaps by putting poems written by a certain author in one font, and the other author’s poems in a different font. However, the chapbook was instead printed in Garamond and read as one uniform chapbook. Though I could distinguish differences in the authors’ styles—for example, one author makes use of lists, while the other uses line breaks in a distinctive fashion—I would have liked to know which author wrote which poem, even if it was only stated in the beginning and the rest was left for me to figure out. Overall, I enjoyed Light Sweet Crude—its themes and conception were interesting and the writing was well-executed, but I think the design could have taken the origins of the chapbook into consideration.
– Lin Wang