Book Review: Hotel Almighty by Sarah J. Sloat
Hotel Almighty by Sarah J. Sloat
Sarabande Books, 2020
Reviewed by Kathleen Kirk, EIL Poetry Editor
Travel is out of the question, so the only hotel I’m staying in these days is Hotel Almighty by Sarah J. Sloat. Or I could stay in the Hotel of Strange and Poisonous Flowers, the Hotel Filled With Smoke, the Hotel Wonk-Wonk, or the Hotel of Queer Silence. The chapters provide a tourist’s paradise of fabulous hotels.
What a glorious book! It is a book of “found” poems, specifically erasure poems, which remain intact on pages from the novel Misery, by Stephen King, their source material. The non-poem text is whited out, or blacked out, pinked out, blued out, or otherwise creatively obscured, with collage art added in wonderful ways.*
As the source book’s title, the word Misery is repeated at the top of many pages, and the novel’s page number hovers above this book’s page number. In my Covid reading, the repetition of Misery seemed to reinforce our communal misery and also to make something shared of the private experience of 1) reading alone at home or 2) staying in a “hotel.”
And it did not rule out joy. No, for “joy would crawl over broken glass if that was the way” to get to us, as in the poem on page 12 (King’s page 37). I found great joy in the surprising visuals, including the strangely clear three-dimensionality that sometimes survives the two-dimensional book page, as on page 24 (King’s 45), where a woman is running, pushing a spool of thread like a stroller.
The poems work on their own, too, as tiny, vivid collections of words. I see things I recognize, like this, which I’ve seen from a car window: “the land was interrupted by livestock.” I see some of these poems through the lens of lockdown: “for a long time I think about isolated things like neighbors” even if that’s just coincidence; likewise, some, through the lens of politics: “Now I must rinse off the power found in a shady corner of the Republic that’s the name of the game now, look around there are lions behind…and by-God lions ahead.” But the visuals give each poem its own context and structure, creating the line and stanza breaks.
In a process note here at Escape Into Life, Sloat said, “My poems stand back from the story, but of course the themes and props and their vocabulary come through.” So, yes, there are pills, and, yes, there is pain and misery. But I do read new stories in these poems, and a possible series of internal conflicts: ambition vs. doubt, despair vs. persistence, philosophy vs. “wonk-wonk.”
The poems are sometimes like French scenes in a drama (or farce), short, defined by an entrance or exit, a door opening or closing. Some evidence: “I stood in the doorway as if it might burn” and two pages later: “Burning seemed the proper thing like research for a great drama.” But you’d have to see it/read it to believe me, so that’s what I suggest.
Take a look at the examples here, get yourself a copy of this wonderful book, and Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year in the Hotel Almighty! After all, “What was champagne but a change of angels”!?
*Indeed, in various ways and drafts, it appears! Escape Into Life published some of these in “wildly different versions,” to quote the book’s acknowledgments page, and it’s fun to see the variations that landed in the book side by side with the ones here. I love the blue and black visuals of our version of “you could hardly have missed the Thousands of impossible flowers trying to be born” but I also love the new ending in the book version: “you could hardly have missed the Thousands of impossible flowers known in the technical jargon as laughing.” It made me laugh!
Sarah J. Sloat’s Misery at EIL
(3 poems in “wildly different versions” + process note)
Book Review by Sarah J. Sloat at EIL (The Waste Books)
EIL reviews of chapbooks by Sarah J. Sloat:
“O doubt…” was first published in Permafrost.
“What was champagne…” was first published in A Bad Penny.
The others were first published here at Escape Into Life!
**[This was my first gig as Poetry Editor for Escape Into Life, and founding Editor Christopher R. Al-Aswad posted the feature for me. He died before he could teach me how, but other editors helped me out, notably Carmelita Caruana, then an Artist Watch editor for EIL. I am grateful. –KK]