Last week, while I was looking for a lighthearted read, I ordered the collection Boris by the Sea by Matvei Yankelevich. I wanted something weird and wacky, playful and fun. When I found the collection on Octopus Book, the idea of fictional character being the voice of a poetry collection caught my attention. And soon enough, I was in love with Boris and the strange world with which he occupies: “The world was reflected inside him, somewhere inside his skull. And it hurt. It hurt something awful” (8).
Through the combination of poetry, prose, and plays, Yankelevich’s collection does a great job of keeping readers on their toes. Personally, I enjoyed the subtle humor in Boris by the Sea. Boris will remind you of that quirky cousin of yours that you admire, yet feel equal worry for because you wonder how the hell he functions in this world: “Boris was thirsty so he watered his plants. When the plants died from being over-watered, Boris was still thirsty” (3). The only comparison I have for Boris is Mr. Bean. And who doesn’t love Mr. Bean?
Despite the humor and nonsense, the collection does not lack in poignancy, even if it’s coated with bits of absurdity: “Slowly a dark thought came over Boris: In such a manner Boris could be rid of himself. And then for the first time in his life Boris said aloud: There is a limit to everything everywhere” (11). Even in the most surreal moments in the collection, Yankelevich’s words are touching.
I picked up this collection because I was looking for something different – and who better to deliver that than Octopus books (more info on them below). Octopus Books also published The Father of the Arrow is the Thought, so if you’re into eccentric collections, check that out too. I like the overall lack of the “I” speaker in Boris by the Sea. So much of it is written in the 3rd person, which I appreciated because it offers a different type of voice that is not typical in contemporary poetry. “Boris reached around and touched his sghoulder blade. He wondered what it looked like. He got a good hold on it. He pulled hard. And he pulled harder. But he could not bring it around to the front” (5).
In total, the collection is only 62 pages. If you’re looking for a short break from the typical poetry that you read, I suggest Boris by the Sea. The voice is fresh, and each page offers something different. Boris is out-of-this-world and irrational in the best ways possible. Embrace your inner Boris. Buy this collection.
Cover of Boris by the Sea courtesy of Octopus Books.
Buy Yankelevich’s collection here.
*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about Octopus Books: Octopus Books is a small poetry press in Portland, OR. Established in 2006, Octopus Books is committed to building a catalog of contemporary poetry by publishing four books each year. Many of our titles are selected through our open reading period held each April.*