Lockets, Loops, and Squares: An Omnibus Review of Metatron Press

New Infinity

Bára Hladík

Metatron Press

2022, 136 pp., $18.00

Para-Social Butterfly

Šari Dale

Metatron Press

2022, 88 pp., $18.00

Kim: A Novel Idea

Frankie Barnet

Metatron Press

2022, 248 pp., $26.00


The following is a review of three Spring 2022 releases from Metatron Press, an independent publisher based in Montreal, Canada. Each stood in the vase a little differently, invited different proximities: New Infinity makes each plain detail in the world the centre of a new bloom; Para-Social Butterfly stops you at the shop window; and Kim: A Novel Idea might be the infinitesimal tilt, a look at how all the stems are bunched below the neck, the bottom half of our days and how they are held together.



(definition of proprioception)

“And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony.” —Viktor Shklovsky, from “Art as Technique” (1917)


The recovery of life sensation is no big finale. It is a trading of one infinity for another: the life of your daytime name and current face for the life where you are still elemental, always new. The newness is unbearable, turbulent, but there are at least no competing claims to reality, and no vying for one’s position in it.

Some people I know may seem ‘stony’ in a first sense: unapproachable, callous. They are accused in a silent way of keeping at their core a distance, some eye from afar that never blinks. But I think this is another kind of stoniness. This is wanting to turn into stone, a wanting to live by the knowledge of the many new infinities where meanings adorn themselves, smile, waver back into the air. How very hard it is to show you this small stone, this small life, and agree on what we see.


As Shklovsky had it, the technique of art is “to make objects ‘unfamiliar,’ to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged.” To perceive artfulness in any object is to receive all things artfully—whether a stone or a painting, “the object is not so important ... ”

Complex and artful things ourselves, we provide the difficulty quite easily. What is really difficult is finding time to find the forms. Or for the forms to find us; Paul Cézanne once said of his process of observing landscapes that “the landscape thinks itself in me [...] and I am its consciousness.”[1] As the stones become stony, so we become ourselves by diffusion, by making time for essences, feeling out how we might paint, one perfect lapse at a time, this picture. The landscape gets wider and wider not so much in a slow zoom-out, but in a patchwork.

We can decide the scale, but rarely the speed. Life now, as many of us likely live it, is not conducive to these long stretches and stares. Years and houses can be built on some very unstoney stones, things as they so benignly ‘are.’  “And so life is reckoned as nothing” in the heap of refused possibilities. There, genre is poking out. The clock face. Your health.

There, Bára Hladík is picking out, as she has been, the patient truths lodged in the granular, where things erode, break down to their most fatal and fundamental. But it is the slow witnessing itself that pushes back. The basic paradox in New Infinity is that its most sterling and perfect phrases are at once about formal limitation as they are ‘about,’ or around it. “time is how they trap you” begins the poem “soft,” marvellously eluding the question of who “they” are. On the one hand, we know those nattering fucks too well, while in the stony sense, “they” might be our many other misguided selves.

Bára Hladík is picking out, as she has been, the patient truths lodged in the granular, where things erode, break down to their most fatal and fundamental.

The suite of untitled poems from the second section, “Book of Shadows,” is where Hladík first mentions her condition, ankylosing spondylitis, by name. We go one plane deeper: counting white blood cells, pain scales, “shifting vases for offices.” Now, what is this precisely, this swirling in the gut, this coil, slowly reckoned, of “being / a being / a benign / being / in a room / waiting / in pain / for the words / for being / in this body / of pain.” It is one accordion thought, compacted or stretched to express the book’s central dilemma: pain and being feeling like involuted synonyms. 

To reproduce as I must, in its entirety:


is a natural phenomenon
in which you become
aware of death


as you reach
to flowers

from sky.


On the verge of figurative and non-, this portrait of disappearance between planes is made closer to eternity, eternity and eternity, from the little estrangements in those last quiet four: the dropping of “the” from flowers and sky reframes the poem as an elemental kind of painting. The definite article “you,” passing out of view, like a brain looming weightlessly for a few seconds as the elevator plummets.


What keeps the jag and poise, the play with genre and time, the ‘managed chance’ of each section starting with eyes open in the night and a tarot card pull together, replenishes them as one body of work, is that the speaker—whether it’s the I waking up or the girl in the waiting room—is “perpetually thirsty” for air, is sure of life’s strength, even when their own strength falters to meet it.

The speakers here are always drowning or close to it. All these lockets, loops, and squares: snakes bunched around her joints, the “futures I lived and died / while the water boiled,” the recurrence of cages, how the clock does not tell time but “tells contrasts” and competitions “like you vs. your birth.”

Heavy with the sense of things dying all the time, we recover the sensation of life, the “emotive overtones of touch” like arpeggios going up higher to the right. Is it the left hand that won’t move? Or is this a motif that’s auguring, feigning, trying for, no, not liberation—life is long, though your taste of it short—but each time, over and over, to recover the sense of holding the precious locket that your own face is caught in, looking into infinity, from both sides, hello, Hello.



In Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, an angel desperate to know finitude in its many flavours falls from B/W into colour with the dumb weight of being human. Šari Dale’s Para-Social Butterfly is Wings moving the other way (and with better costume design). In the VR space of the Ultra-Glam, where much of the iced-out crack-up takes place, the desire is not to change shape and fit into this reality. The butterfly wants to keep on dying, dying, and trying new fits.

The book is not a clean moult so much as it is a fidgeting death-dream of something with its wings crushed, cycling through hallucinations and desires, banging against the light. Metamorphosis is cranked till the dial is broken—and we do it with her, the drooling and finger-floating and eye-widening above all these new drops, the different colourways of mYsELf that the mind has become. What can’t you find there? Lana Del Rey, Jerkmate ads, “ironic longing” for a “prairie chic” life, a Sailor Mercury costume. Ubiquitous fads and brands have their half-lives extended with each mocking namedrop, as if going down a checklist of all the #voids around us. These things are dead and frozen but reanimated by the wily desire of the speaker, who is running past all these options, grazing them like fake plastic flowers, a sort of Midas touch that puts the ~tildes~ and ★·.·STARS·.·★ on everything.

Or should I say putting them back on everything? The ‘real world’ that Para-Social Butterfly starts with is already hyperreal, or “Too Real” as the first poem’s title has it: “Summer is a billboard / for Hawaiian Air” Dale writes, which thankfully (and playfully) jumps the cue on the claptrap about an imminent consumerist dystopia. It is here, and has been, and in laying these ground rules, Dale does not dangle in front of us some story about the resistance of the local and lyrical I to all the venal forces. Elsewhere for that; our ‘protagonist’ Bambi Woods is quite duly fucked, her consciousness dispersed across a hundred loading tabs. It follows, then, that in the violent moment when she fits the UltraGlam projector into her skull—a scene for the Cronenberg fans—what we see is not so much a drastic leap to another world, but a deeper drill into this one; the nauseating universe you are reading this review on, which has dutifully recorded every log-in, transaction, email, filthy search, and so on. The first two words we read upon entering the UltraGlam, “My mirage,” are quite right: the place is a hallucinatory desert. What follows are not so much poems as they are the allotted 15 minutes for each fractured persona. “I emulate the tropes / of traditional / celebrity culture,” one such butterfly plainly says.

The poems, in form and function, are somewhere between pop-up ad and confessional poetry; Amazon Wishlist and erotica; or quite plainly, they are a litany of “pastoral themes / for naughty fucknuts / to pick apart.” And picking apart I am, to find that this is not a book ‘merely about’ the in(s)ane delectations and distortions of Digital Life, celebrity culture, consumerism, and the like, though it does that well. Nor is it a flippant attempted rejection of human self, which it also does well. In part, the book is about the futility of desire itself, in the long and instantaneous now. Punctured, hilarious, and adolescent as the desires in this book are, they are not really aimed at the objects, the sex symbols, the “70s-inspired slingbacks” in the window. They are more like death drives neutered by the constant scroll, by the sheer “mind-numbing pace” with which we must toggle between our “sparsely plotted” lives and the tabloid stories desperately concocted. The desire for the getaway means you have to shop for the right heart-shaped sunglasses. Predetermined, hauntological, your desire is coded with planned obsolescence. So says the speaker in “Wannabe”:

I admit to mistaking
my face for a cream mask
but when I speak
a South Cali intonation rises
wings through smoke.

The wings, the faces, all those pretty lights. Bambi trades her life for a lifetime warranty—upgrade after upgrade, a new glittering case—until, in a spin on the Ship of Theseus, we ask who that “I” really is. Or maybe that is just what this (per)version of desire looks like: a speaker emptied at the speed of light, on the bleeding edge of finally being everything, everyone.

Bambi trades her life for a lifetime warranty—upgrade after upgrade, a new glittering case—until, in a spin on the Ship of Theseus, we ask who that ‘I’ really is.



“I am always watching TV in America, even when a screen is not near me.” Oh what, are we already our parents? Whatever ease you can find is a corner that dying backs your mind into. The cat doesn’t blame, and its lack of sentiment seems like a stronger version of compassion. It jumps, it listens, it looks away.

To the scrying cat we say there are so many corners we are dying from: one where we watch Guggenheim slideshows or any other talk-talk because we are/I am panicking, waiting for a little bright accident, and all we get is clarification without clarity; one where “I want to be an artist so desperately it scares me,” and anything that is not the buoying chant is horrifying; one where little old me—depressed, scrolling—is a cloak something behind me keeps trying to take off to no avail, and “I couldn’t articulate myself any further,” and really shouldn’t, because, as the Sontag epigraph has it, “to think only of one’s self is to think of death,” and—

“Hi, it’s [the book] from your [review] and I just wanted to remind you that it didn’t quite happen like that. You’re wrong about a couple things actually. Then one great big thing, right in the centre.”

Yes, let’s scroll back up. Kim: A Novel Idea is Frankie Barnet’s first graphic novel, and it does begin with that epigraph from Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor. At the book’s core is not one Frankie, but many Frankie banshees: “one who is young in only easy ways,” one who is desperate for attention, one who is “terrified of everything and everyone.” There is Frankie the MFA student lost in the DeLillo minefield, Frankie with her boyfriend Jacob, Frankie puzzling over whether or not she was sexually assaulted by her former professor.

Then again, at the core, not many but one: the one who wants to be an artist so badly that all the traffic of her mind—the speeding and being stuck—gets directed into this project, a book which makes you feel a little like her pet Catman himself, patrolling, pawing at Frankie’s confessions as they stumble and spool, beginning in her depression, winding through her grief at the death of her boyfriend’s father.

If that sounds ridiculous, good. The best parts in this book are when you enter its padding trance, the pace of Frankie’s own memories, as if you yourself were on the sill or the rug half-listening to people’s coos and arguments, until they’re suddenly right in your face: “Catman, my dad had a stroke and now he can’t talk properly. They think the cancer’s spread to his brain.”

Or you might move the other way, waiting as one of Frankie’s observations spindles out, as when she retells the story of how Jacob’s parents met, then imagines a remnant of her own years with him in the future, a nude: “Imagine it coveted years from now by another young woman not yet even born, who in turn will leave traces of herself in hopes of also being coveted, and so on and so on as our civilization achieves its failure. This could be sisterhood.”

The best parts in this book are when you enter its padding trance, the pace of Frankie’s own memories, as if you yourself were on the sill or the rug half-listening to people’s coos and arguments, until they’re suddenly right in your face.

Shock, but not pathos, because right when the confession bumbles or ekes out, the book moves flatly on, as if nothing quite happened. The next page might be a catalogue of dead celebrities and the ways they’ve died, or a drawing of a Kim Kardashian Instagram post with Frankie’s face superimposed. I say flat as in how depression like a palette knife smears all events flat again. There are verbatim moments, variations on arguments. The sadness is in the irreverence with which the book moves on, how nothing fully parses—not because there’s nothing there, but because the unbidden currents can only stumble out when you can’t articulate yourself any further, when desperation forces something embarrassingly else out of your mouth.

Frankie is told her writing “lacks discipline,” but the whole novel, or idea of the novel idea, is that it is about someone obsessively crawling out, someone who wants to drag something out with them. Whether the dream where she rescues her boyfriend from grief’s pool, or the “thousand pictures of Kim Kardashian” she drew to keep her hands moving through depression’s idle water, this is a book clearly, to me, about survival—not the acute kind, but the languorous hush of one more day. Page to page, in the way this book cuts and scrambles, deflates and defers, one feels the thin derangement of a life where nothing seems to happen, where your self is the talk of the town in your head. This is the book’s draining hypnotism and its strength. The end of the book is the end of the book—Frankie hands a draft to Catman (Jacob’s head superimposed) and while Frankie waits for her first review, the ideal reader is lolling about, for once just a cat, and for now the faces and voices are where they belong, and Kim completed is Kim out of the picture—leaving behind: who? (wag).


[1] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, in the Merleau-Ponty Reader (pp. 76-77), in turn quoted in Byung-Chul Han’s The Burnout Society (p. 14).