ESCAPE OF THE UNICORN by James Sunwall

ESCAPE OF THE UNICORN

: A Play and Selected Poems
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A play and assorted poems on the existential nature of art and life.

Sunwall (Dodge County Fair, 2006) intriguingly combines an allegorical drama set in 13th-century France and 36 poems composed in a smattering of lyric styles. The two-act play, from which the book draws its title, revolves around Robert de Chanson, a court minstrel who has been imprisoned for three months by a cruel-hearted Duchess and awaits his execution. Set in 1270 during the last year of the Crusades, the play comments on how the plight of artists is subject to the political winds of the day. It also looks at the hypocrisy of the nobility and church hierarchy obsessed with constructing immense cathedrals and engaging in holy wars in hopes of securing eternal salvation, all the while bankrupting and starving the poor. In the end, when offered the chance to escape, Robert must choose between extending his earthly life or remaining in his cell and preserving the epic he’s written. Sunwall suggests here and in a number of the poems that a writer’s chances of his works gaining eternal life are about as likely as those for his physical being. Such a defeatist, almost nihilistic attitude pervades the poems and is powerfully encapsulated in the provocative piece “Playing with Matches,” in which a young girl inadvertently causes her own death by accidentally setting a barn ablaze: “And when in later years we / Read of self-immolations / (Better to light one candle– / And make yourself the wick– / Than curse the darkness) / The thought came unwanted: / Kitty had protested for us. / Not against the futile war, / But all our futile lives.” Sunwall’s dark edginess gives many of these works an intriguing bite.

Thoughtful social commentary tossed with a dash of imagistic flare.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 978-1-4010-6853-0
Program: Kirkus Indie
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