Life Cycle by Dena Rash Guzman

Reviewed By

To maximize the pleasure of Life Cycle, read it fast. This is the opposite advice I give about most things. It’s a grind record or a joy ride: enough time to do it again and again and again.

The idea of Life Cycle, each poem being named “Life Cycle,” is the draw here. (NOTE: individual poems are referenced by their first line here) I get it and I like it, because life is a festival or a road trip, where there are a lot of plodding parts, but, upon looking back, a genuine fullness that was the intent all along.

Not that this book is coming from an elderly, sentimental state of mind, or is for the elderly or sentimental, or was written by anyone other than the decidedly-forever-youthful-and-pint-size-kill-machine Dena Rash Guzman. It’s a half-way retrospective, but it’s the same effect as any thoughtful, enriched look back.

The thing Dena does that is respectable is put it all in. Neil Young always said that when he finally does his big, all-encompassing archives, he’s going to put in songs that aren’t very interesting or good, because that’s honest. He could go through and pull a couple dozen songs that make him look like a genius—and he has, for greatest hits cash in purposes—but his archives, the true documentation of his life, is incomplete without the flubs and the failures.

So it’s all here. There’s a chapbook worth of poems that, on their own, will knock anyone in the dirt. “turn up the hi fi” has all the fun of a Lifter Puller song, somewhere between a cautionary tale and a good time fading fast. “faith is the space” is a killer short short poem that says it all, as good as any of my favorite verses by William Matthews or Seamus Heaney. “This is how we forget our ancestors” starts as a set-up/punchline and turns there from a list to a hard stop on time, the big death, the one last final frontier.

I’ll sit
on the curb in the rain
and flip out
near Chinatown,
coffee and donuts
in steed of absinthe.
I’ll write a poem
about a blurry, blurry
night, smear my lipstick,
then sing the national anthem
before cutting off my ear
which I’ll post to you,
post to you,
notice I say post.

These are wonderful, but they aren’t what makes Life Cycle a true life cycle, they aren’t the sweeping idea that makes this book what it is. “I can’t conquer scorn” gets close to the true marrow of these stories: oh, how the days stack up. Cycles adding up to larger cycles, wheels within wheels. Whatever anyone wants to call it. The point remains that everything is everything, and in the process of breaking it down there are obvious threads apparent, some tiny, complete things and others that spin off or die on the spot. But, such is life.

In this way, Guzman’s vision is true to itself, right down to the faults. This is proof that the book has been nurtured and then shot out, more creation than craft and goddamn all the better for it.

Dena Rash GuzmanThe poems that seem inconsequential or like non-sequiturs on their own really work as part of the collection, especially when there are those moments and poems of hit like back-porch whiskey, the ones that aren’t long in the tooth, but are full of long teeth and heading straight for the meaty parts of your ass.

I had to put myself on the street to see it, but I did it. I took my head out of a book, out of subtext and literary concerns and what might be an allusion to an overarching problem concerning society or oppression or the patriarchy or whatever, and put my head into a life instead.

Poems are for the people. Go fast, friends. You are the people.

deal with the man
get snubbed

define the short version of a long hoax
he is a heavy load, I am a faulty wheel

the burden of my body on his ego
the burden of his ego on my body

repair my bike, make it purr
I’m a pioneer, motherfucker

Ryan Werner is a cook at a preschool in the Midwest. He plays an old Ampeg VT-22 in a loud, instrumental rock band called Young Indian. He's online at and @YeahWerner on Instagram. More from this author →