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F2O LitStyle Review of Beautiful Madness by S.T. Cartledge | Book Review | Scott Patrick Mitchell

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You have to love the modern age, how social media is breaking down geographical and sociocultural barriers. Yeah yeah, there might be arguments for the detriment it’s causing society and the economy of reputation it’s instilling in us collectively, but without social media I know I personally wouldn’t have the awareness of the modern age that I currently have. Niche genres of writing such as Bizzaro Lit would remain, well, bizarre and unknown to myself. And you. Until now that is.

Bizzaro Lit is a post-surrealist form of writing that mashes literary genres together. It creates a lysergic playing field of potentiality where video games, zombies, shogun warriors and odd and insane can all, effectively, inhabit the same wonderful space. Cartledge subscribes to this genre, his fiction in particular an homage to the weird and fanciful, the obtuse and everyday crashing together to create work that is rather spectacular and sublime.

His poetry continues this exploration with aplomb. Beautiful Madness is his debut poetry collection and my word, what a debut. A slim volume spanning 70 pages, Cartledge displays a deft writing hand. His style, other than lyrical, is largely hard to pin down accurately since he plays and whoops across literary forms, applying postmodern techniques where appropriate to great effect. It’s by no means groundbreaking (although every collection is theoretically groundbreaking for the poet themselves) but it is a very good read.

More than anything, Cartledge’s narratives openly play. The ridiculous becomes commonplace, the collection opening with a wild sprawling piece that aligns itself with the cinematic technique of Wes Anderson while deploying samurai and shoguns to slice and dice apart the poem. Then it spills into the territory of the zombie apocalypse – and who doesn’t love a good zombie apocalypse – before belying a fixation on popular culture and video game play.

In TWO-DIMENSIONAL CRISIS OF THE SELF Cartledge explores self-identity through a stream of literary tropes made celluloid. He merges between Oz and Wonderland and other fictious locations, adopting the characters in an attempt to further define himself. The attempt, however, is futile: how can you find yourself in something that isn’t essentially yourself, he asks. This notion of emptiness is best encapsulated in WHEN EVERYTHING HAS MOVED, where he writes:

Everything is hollow,
and every other thing is hollow,
and anything that doesn’t fall down
will be there forever.

It’s the simple truths such as these that give us assuredness and certainty, no matter how fragile they be.

Carledge succeeds exceptionally when he is being playful, however. And yes, this playfulness is always tinged with the melancholy, but is playful none the less, such as this excerpt from FIBONACCI MARY SUE:

I take my hat off to you. And my shoes off to you. And my shirt and my pants off to you. And while others would scream and call me a pervert and shoot pepper spray in my face, you just giggle and blush and tell me what a nice guy I am. You’re modest and kind and you let me down easy.

In the face of vulnerability, Cartledge finds the humour and playfulness of the situation and plays it to great effect.

Cartledge has a very bright future. Not only is a writer who writes with ferocity and across form, but he has a sensibility that attunes him distinctly to the zeitgeist. When you read Beautiful Madness, you almost wish it existed in social media itself, so you could like, comment, share and tag other people in it. And that’s what good poetry should do: it should have a referentiality for the reader that extends beyond the poem itself, plonking it deliberately into the reader’s own narrative, informative and insightful and inspiring. Cartledge is all of these things, certainly making him a writer to keep an eye on.