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Book Review: 'Darkmouth Strikes Again' is a precise look into the world of depression



The thinly cardboard-covered, pocket-sized lyric essay collection “Darkmouth Strikes Again” by Jay Ponteri centers its interest on multiple related, yet varying themes in its brief 31 pages. Themes of sorrow, shame, uncertainty, self-loathing, longing and suicide all lie waiting to be experienced in the unassuming, petite book. Due to its being a non-fiction, the references made regarding Ponteri’s wife and son makes it a rough read to say the least, but one worth enduring.

Ponteri is the director of Marylhurst University’s undergraduate creative writing program, and he exemplifies his strength of resonating with readers exceptionally well with “Darkmouth Strikes Again.” The lyric essay starts, “I operate on the understanding that anything I say, do, or think is the wrong thing to say, do, or think.” From the get go, we realize that we’re in for it.

The ongoing narration from a single viewpoint extends to a familiar and alarmingly precise look into the world of depression; it’s a look into how “being awake hurts.” The narrator hits on commonalities such as the inescapability of one’s bed on particular days and the pushing away of people surrounding you. Yet, it isn’t at all the hitting on these topics that is impressive, but the stylistic devices through which it is done. The personal affliction isn’t merely described based on daily events, but through its feeling and the way it presents itself. To point to one of several times where this becomes clear, Ponteri provides a detailed description of the shape of sorrow: “Is it like a spiral curling inside itself or a vortex drawing its contents to some unfathomable center or the sea moving in gentle, laving waves, or creeper waves, or destructive and debilitating waves, or perhaps sorrow is shaped like a ghost, always there, never there, shaped like a sob, a convulsion, a howl, a wet towel, or perhaps sorrow is shaped like a bowl holding only so much, closed at the bottom with nowhere to go, open at the top for pouring fourth, emptying, up-filling.”

This description ultimately leaves the reader, whether intimate with sadness or not, aware of sorrow’s overwhelmingness. Its overflowing nature exemplified through the simile of sorrow being a kind of bowl. This is also a point where Ponteri’s use of run-on sentences can be seen as a way of more honestly capturing an individual’s stream of consciousness, in all its sporadic and fast-paced glory, oftentimes leaving me losing my breath after a page or so because of the speed at which I want to follow the speaker’s thought process. Moreover, the constant interruptions of “or”s and offerings of new comparisons for sorrow expresses the writer’s indecisiveness or uncertainty. This is made abundantly clear by the end of the work in which a collective apology is offered on behalf of depressed people.

From a case of body shakes to a distanced, disordered appearance, the essay hits all fronts from a direct, firsthand perspective, constantly addressing a wife and son who unavoidably get tied up in the narrator’s misery. The work brings about a longing, a feeling of self-doubt that’s been there all along, which speaks to Ponteri’s strength as a writer.

Ponteri’s work is published by Future Tense Books, the Portland-based literary press. Future Tense publishes a variety of books that take on different styles of creative writing, which keeps things naturally interesting. To that end, Future Tense doesn’t accept submissions because it only publishes three or four books a year. “We know what we’re looking for and we know where and how to find it and we have a good healthy list of writers we want to work with already,” as stated on its website. It’s comforting knowing that a small publishing company is so particular about how and with whom it operates. On that note, Ponteri’s and other authors’ works can be purchased from Future Tense Books from its website.


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Ghoncheh Azadeh

Ghoncheh Azadeh