Soft Apocalypse by Leah Nieboer takes the reader on a metaphorically intimate journey through a postmodern America. A world where hyper reality has led to a world crumbling under the constraints of late-stage capitalism and the remnants of a world where an honest day’s work once led to the American dream.
Nieboer emphasizes on the Orwellian dystopia that is fast onsetting as America, and much of the Western Hemisphere begins its descent into anomie as geo-political shifts arise and ideological and repressive state apparatuses diminish, to paraphrase the neo-Marxist Louis Althusser. This sinister world is juxtaposed by individuals that find community in an era of notable individualization. Nieboer works to contrast the growing obsidian that seeks to destroy community bonds with characters that make and find joy in this challenging scape.
“ON A SLEEPLESS NIGHT, KILOMETERS AND
KILOMETERS BELOW WHAT HAD BEEN A
GREAT CITY, we go on our knees to the church of the neon
cross, watch supplicants race the strip, no muffler, smoke tearing
through our nostrils, pink Jesus blinking mutely overhead in a
final effort to turn our eyes up from the buckled pavement—” (23)
The aforementioned contrast can be exemplified within this extract as Nieboer reifies even the arcane, the religious, through a postmodern gaze that makes it all the more concrete, less sacred, more sacrilegious. This attention to metaphor and detail allows for a great level of synthesis within this collection as a whole. Nieboer presents a world falling into decrepitude through an emphasis on all the vestiges of the past slowly disappearing. The narrator’s fast failing hope and at times, desperation is key to understanding Nieboer’s broader authorial intent. Further, this failing hope is expanded upon within the narrator’s experience of living with illness, or dare I say continuing to live as illness weighs down and others are unaware.
Interestingly, Nieboer depicts a world where the narrator is a spectator that observes and wonders, ever questioning the postmodern world elapsing as this narrative progresses before the reader. Nieboer’s diction invites the reader to contend with the intersection between humanity and nature and the former’s more loving approach.
From underground worlds beyond the pale of imagined cities to alternative attitudes, existences and ways of being that may differ but present the same meaning, the same community despite the challenges. These prose-poems demonstrate a delicate lyricism that can be seen to guide the reader along their way.
As a whole, Soft Apocalypse is a collection of poetry that challenges the desecration of individualized humanity and the rampant ruination of collective humanity throughout this planet. Nieboer’s words rise up against the isolative nature of this distorted 21st century, this simulated, hyper-real postmodernity in constant flux. Nieboer is gifted and these sensational poems coupled with a postmodern theoretic basis that is both jarring and intricate, leave the reader vigilant, inspired and saddened in the most unique of manners.