The Octopus Game by Nicky Beer
Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2015; 80 pp
Reviewed by Paul French


It’s hard to be an honest critic, to refrain from leaping headlong into somersaults of praise for every book I read for AMRI. Praise is easier to write. Praise is easier to read. Praise is easier to get away with.

After a string of poor or mediocre reviews, I start to feel like Moliere’s Misanthrope or, to be more pedestrian and honest, like that vulturish critic from Ratatouille who won’t eat anything unless he absolutely loves it. Good thing for me, and as by now you’ve probably anticipated, Nicky Beer’s 2015 The Octopus Game is something to love.

Cinematic and darkly intimate, Beer’s latest collection sustains its conceit without succumbing to gimmick. Perhaps because it’s allowed to participate in its poeticization, the octopus never feels like a prop. It never feels cheap or used. Beer is able to do what many other poets, myself included, could never do: maintain an image for 73 pgs and still manage to make that image feel like a surprise at the end--the terminal and collection-titled poem beginning,

Two people sit side by side
And become each other’s arms

Beer’s work is the first in a while to produce those warm chills in my spine. This collection is rife with the stuff that sticks. “Annotations,” “Boys in Dresses,” “Scene 43…,” and “Ad Hominem” are just a few. Beer does a good job of mixing straightforward evocation with riddling density--the latter brought on by Beer’s powerful diction, which, at its highest height, can seem overwrought; but stick with it long enough and you’ll see it’s purposeful.

Lest I bend the envelope of this microreview (rarely the case for me), I’ll close by saying that I highly recommend this book. Five gold stars, two thumbs up, 100% fresh. Go buy it.