Miggy Angel’s poetry collection, Boy, Bestiary (Ice Floe Press, 2020) is the third book in a trilogy including Extreme Violets, (Hi Vis Press). The story (told through poetry and prose poetry) follows the birth and swift decline into fragmentation and disintegration of the predestined Boy. Angel is a precise surgeon taking a scalpel to language with his brilliant scapular word-play. Family dysfunction, experimentation, torture, addiction, and revolt are a few of the themes broached in this U.K as prison allegory. The book is divided into several sections, broken up to illustrate “Boy’s” descent from childhood to adulthood, exhibiting searing detail that is both breathtaking and shockingly surgical, as if cuts under a microscope, handcrafted.
The “Prologue” starts things off with foreboding. Boy is birthed into a London, England best described by its author as a “burning doll’s house with a dead dog gullet for a welcome mat.” A family portrait is painted concretely in section two of the book, “Boy.” Inequality is apparent from the start with a father who “Always won” when he beat up Boy’s mother. Boy is more of an observer, and not a participant in these dealings between husband and wife, but he gets his own share of the abuse from the father after he is done with the mother.
“School” and “Hospital” are sections of the book that blend well together in their expose of the brutality viciousness of UK’s public society. If the twisted psychological games and violence portrayed in the section “School” is the tip of the iceberg where Angel sets his scalpel, “Hospital” is where Angel puts the knife more fully to the cold heart of England, enabling Boy, as a visceral reading experience to plunge the reader into the brutalities of its institutions. The procedures open a fresh wound as well as produce a disturbing operating table. Boy’s role is strictly as a specimen taken from home to school and put in a hospital for experimentation. The sorts of tests and experiments performed on him are elaborate to the point where they are unlike anything done in a lab before. Not even the disturbing torture-horror flick “Untraceable” (2008) with its macabre scenes can compare to what Angel pulls off with “Boy, Bestiary.” The whole experience is the meatiest chunk of the book both metaphorically and in quality. Stanzas like “Your carcass lacerations are not aberrations,” have a sick playfulness to them, psychotropics and sadism that can be easily swallowed.
“Home” is the penultimate part of the story where Boy reaches adulthood, and is released from the hospital. He returns to the neighbourhood where he grew up which turns out to have been upended. With his former home in disarray, he is left to the perils and trauma of what came before, the gentrifying streets, and his grappling with being a product of an abject environment. Boy attempts to do the most with what is left, and rallies against the institutions that “protect wealth, expand, practice nepotism.” The conflict for the anti-hero is that he has continuous “violent flashbacks, postcards, and Polaroids” from his time at the hospital. His dependency on drugs does not help him on his quest either. Angel carves Boy’s loneliness up in a way, not so that we feel sorry for him, but we are invigorated and feel empathetic, both as observer and insider to the injustice of Boy’s situation. Quotes like “the hems and seams of halos, give me locusts in the chest” invites us to share in his anxiety, as if it were our own.
In the final part of the book, “Afterlife” we get a picture of how the metaphorical walls around Boy have crumbled, and he has been stripped of much of his humanity. “You brought me onto national television to disrespect me,” is about how the main character was born a pariah. “Façade of the municipal lobotomy” is one of the lines in the collection that shows that through Boy’s deceitful and deceived eyes, there is no way for him to fight back against his oppressors. All he is left with are the memories of being tortured and mutilated, without a chance for the justice so eagerly pined for. Angel is great at depicting this defeat with lines like “The black box in the corner of the room.” and Wretched repentance retched.” We feel for Boy but are glad to have been taken on a complex ride through his broken landscapes.
Overall, the book is Boy’s odyssey. He was brought into dysfunctional marriage before being pawned off on a diabolical school. A deranged institution gets a bigger stab at him on the operating table both physically and emotionally. When Boy becomes an adult, he attempts to stand up for himself, but has enough trouble fighting with his own demons let alone the barriers society has built around him. He tries to regain any of the dignity he started out with, but all he has are the memories and flashbacks of childhood trauma. The story through uniquely voiced poems is beautifully detailed by Miggy Angel, who never lets anyone think this is a happy tale of a prodigy, in fact, it is quite the opposite. While most of Boy’s experiences in the book are cut into and dissected with a surgical nature of precision, we are invited to feel with the main character and share in his rage, not feeling sorry for him. We witness terror through the poet’s three-dimensional landscapes and love of often soaring, original use of the possibilities of new poetry carved out from English as a language. In fact, Angel helps us to feel like his assistant during an evisceration turned into a full dissection, The story is an autopsy, a post-mortem for one prodigy, the main character a part of a larger saga of an aspiring London-born boy from a housing estate.