If you like your slam poetry to come at you with all the force of a runaway truck on the Saluda grade, if you enjoy razor-sharp, politically incorrect, screamo free-verse, if you’re really into poop, then Julian Vorus’ recently recorded poetry collection The Nasty Namaste is just right for you.
Which is not to say that Namaste isn’t good, because it is. It’s just not altogether pleasant. Nor is it for the faint of heart, those with sensitive stomaches, low gross-out tolerance levels or an aversion to violent screaming.
About the screaming: if Namaste is an accurate representation (I haven’t heard the local poet perform live), full-volume delivery is his signature style. According to Wikipedia, “Screamo has been described as ‘mixing the literate, poetic lyrics of hardcore punk with a harsher and more metallic brand of sonic thrash’ as well as using screaming vocals ‘as a kind of crescendo element, a sonic weapon to be trotted out when the music and lyrics (every bit as evolved and autobiographically sincere as emo’s were) reach a particular emotional pitch.’” Even though this refers to music, I found it even more apt in describing Vorus’ recitation style. It is literate. It’s hardcore sonic thrash. It begins at a high level of both intensity and decibels and builds from there. It’s scary. And emotive. But really scary.
In fact, I found I had to listen to Namaste in short bursts, my tender ears reeling after a half or a poem or so. But what surprised me is that I surfaced from each sonic pummeling with some gem, some shining verse that stuck with me, compelling me to mull it over. “Fore my love is true,” he states in the poem of that title, “I would regrow my foreskin and then with toenail clippers I would snip the saggy sh*t back off. Did I ever bother to mention in passing conversation that my love for you is true?”
Okay. Disturbing stuff (and this is one of the more PG phrases, one of the few not containing a caterwauled “Motherf**ker”) and presented with shouts of “Hear me, fair maiden” and dripping sarcasm. But under the poem’s brash exterior there beats a sweet heart. It is, despite (or, more likely, due to) Vorus’ best efforts, a testament of devotion.
And that got me thinking: I have this expectation for poetry to be nice and pretty and to fill my head with images of starry skies, fragrant blossoms, lilting creeks, etc. But poetry isn’t birthday present wrapping paper. There’s no reason it needs to be a walk in a flowery meadow. Vorus crafts imagery that is violent, yes, but also vivid and thought-provoking. He crosses and recrosses into territory where few dare to tread. The stinking, ugly, despicable and darkly human seems to capture his imagination. He addresses these subjects with the fervor of a boy poking a dead and bloated groundhog with a stick. Not pleasant, but highly educational.
The deadpan opening of “Tommy Twotone” (“My top five favorite dinosaurs of all time: Number one. The Tyrannosaurus Rex. A perennial classic. Number two. Protoseratops. Completely underrated.”) could be the beginning of one of those cynical children’s books purchased by hipster parents who know better than to turn to Barney. The child-friendly material ends promptly by dinosaur number five, “the motherf**king Rhamphoryncus.”
“Is there nothing more between us as human beings but the sploosh of a turd and the accompanying crinkle of flatulence?” he bellows on “Potty Mouth.” Again, that’s the tamer material. But Vorus attacks his subject matter (feces) with deft creativity. Why go there, I don’t know. But that he does in such a no holds barred, unapologetic way is admirable. And that he does so at top volume, with exhausting enthusiasm, if downright transformative. After all, I’m not sure there’s anything in my life for which I possess six minutes of lung-busting passion. Vorus infuses every moment of his readings with maniacal intensity; a wake-up call to a sleeping culture, a noisy fart in the face of trudging complacency, a brilliant raspberry at unchallenged ideas of beauty.
Julian Vorus’ The Nasty Namaste is available at Harvest Records, Malaprop’s and Static Age.
—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter