Solar Trauma by Philip Sorenson
Rescue Press, 2018; 168 pp
Reviewed by Carleen Tibbetts


Poetry, much like the continent of Antarctica, can also be “full of endlessness and forbidden zones,” as Philip Sorenson writes in his second collection, Solar Trauma. This book is split into two mini-books, each with several, smaller sections, with green and purple covers, respectively, each featuring a marbled image of what appears to be a solar flare. The first section of the first book, Antarctica, draws largely from John Carpenter’s innovative sci-fi horror movie, The Thing, which follows a group of American researches essentially trapped in an Antarctic station as an alien that can mimic anything it kills slowly works its way through the crew. This section of the book follows the “characters” and eloquently narrates and analyzes the film’s plot and greater implications. When describing a blood test the characters develop to weed out the alien among them, Sorenson writes, “Everyone was covered in the skin of a new queen and a new kind of kingdom: the promise of completeness.” Like the film’s shape-shifting creature, Sorenson’s language itself is “a kind of diffuse organism,” working its way through the endless landscape of meaning and identity that humanity so desperately attempts to draw meaning and purpose from. When reading the poems in this section, one can hear the film’s eerie synth score slow-droning, the characters engulfed in flames stumbling in the blizzard, and one can see, as Sorenson does, just how astutely the film comments on the self. Sorenson’s Thing/Antarctica poems move beyond the film’s plot and into tackling identity more specifically. He writes:

when I become the body
from which I believe I already act

and split and split again
a dehiscence is a thing a skin

essentially a constellation of threats

In addition to eviscerating the accepted distinctions between what distinguishes a physical, meat body from a supposedly autonomous and rational self, Sorenson takes the Thing metaphor further and applies to one being taken over by language. Sorenson writes:

when the body is a host
the song for example or motion of the tongue in
mimicry of the dictionary

one is being taken over by the spirit of the word
the word is word is a dead thing

“The word” is already necrotic, already rotting us from the inside as it takes root in the brain, the mind, the host human who has no choice but to mimic set patterns.

The second section of the collection furthers the theme of identity formation, and uses wonderfully grotesque language. Sorenson writes, “Some genders are more mimetic than others,” and “I must restuff the shit back up into myself to fuck myself with my own shit…” The speaker in this section is very in touch with their corporeal conditions and decay, and obsessed with bile and neurosis and rot. Despite the unsettling language, Sorenson’s imagery is exquisite, and lines such as “a rat in the heart of the butter” and “your body is like a giant cloud/face-fucking a mountain for all eternity” are brutally perfect. Philip Sorenson’s Solar Trauma is just the right hybrid of excess and restraint, flowering and decay, and self-confidence and existential dread. This collection is unique, savagely haunting, and the best kind of forbidden zone.