Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews Human Tetris by Vi Khi Nao and Ali Raz. (11:11 Press)
The whole point of literature is to allow for a small, brief window into someone else’s life. Books are empathy builders and they let us see the world from a different perspective.
Keeping this in mind, what’s so impressive about Human Tetris by Vi Khi Nao and Ali Raz is their ability to take this idea of presenting a different look at the world and successfully presenting us with a new depiction of a person on every single page.
The book is set up to mimic people who are seeking romantic connections. The poems are short and sparse, giving concrete details and desires that are up front and obvious, yet build characters we can completely feel and see. It’s like each page is a quick character sketch for something larger (here I must restrain myself from divulging any further), Vi Khi Nao and Ali Raz create an air of mystery that pulls the reader through the entire book.
We’re getting an array of people across the sexual spectrum, too. This is not just a list of hetero fantasies, which is exactly what we need to see right now. We need to have representation across the board to show that there’s not just one or two ways to live, but multiple, and they’re all valid.
I WANNA KNOW WHAT LOVE IS
Me: a person without any hobbies, interests, or job prospects.
I am not attractive. I eat too much and have chronic IBS.
No friends, ever. Unskilled in masturbation and have never come.
You: all of the above plus something more. You know. That special something.
The super sauce. Fairy dust.
Both of us, together: we break everything we touch, the men and women of the world shudder at our approach.
We are mint with a hint of garlic on the breath.
Human Tetris does not feel like it was crafted by two people; these poems feel like they’ve been lifted out of the back page of a classified section. These are two writers working on the same wavelength, and I think it’s because they had set a core goal to focus on.
In an interview with their publisher, 11:11 Press, they said, “… Human Tetris is a project about desire.” It all boils down to this—creating an axiom of “desire = loneliness.” Through different examples of desire, these poems are tapping into a deeper expression of intimacy that we rarely get to see. And, in that, we see a yearning pain for a kind of connection that you can’t simply fill or make up.
There is so much story in this short book and I’m absolutely astounded by the word economy. The example above is about the average length of each piece. Now, imagine this being one of sixty different profiles. With Human Tetris, you’re getting incredibly in-depth stories with fleshed-out characters, within seconds of reading.
This book is essentially glancing through a window at someone’s life. There is a voyeuristic quality to these poems where I felt like I shouldn’t be getting such an intimate depiction, and yet I couldn’t put it down. It’s hard enough for authors to craft fully formed characters over the span of a 300-page book, and Vi Khi Nao and Ali Raz do it ten times over, all within sparse snippets.
I am beyond delighted by this book, and I think you will be too.