Monday, November 06, 2023

Cahill, Unicorn Death Moon Day Planner (2023)

Zachary Cahill, Unicorn Death Moon Day Planner. Red Ogre Review & Liquid Raven Media, 2023. Pp. 74. ISBN 979-8-8600-3593-5. $14.99.

Reviewed by Julie Reeser

Over the last few years, I’ve established a personal habit of spending time each morning planning my day with a view toward my yearly goals and reading poetry. When I saw the Unicorn Death Moon Day Planner by Zachary Cahill, I anticipated an experience born of this complimentary companionship—a planner interspersed with art and poetry to inspire—it seemed the perfect match. Zachary Cahill has quite a few projects and titles under his writerly belt, including a graphic novel, a debut novel, a directorship, and being editor-in-chief of Portable Gray. Both his art and poetry have been shown in several prestigious settings.

I found Cahill’s poetry neighborly and, dare I say, cozy despite its darker themes of depression and survival during doubt and fear. The thirteen poems collected within sidle up to you with wit and honesty, and invite your participation and introspection. This is one of my favorite types of personal poetry, and it’s well-suited to journaling or planning as a companion activity. It makes a reader feel invited to open up and write along.

This perzine style was marred for me by the planner portion. The title says this is a ‘day planner,’ but we are only given 32 lined pages, 13-15 lines each, with occasional brief, integrated prompts. The lines are wide-ruled, an aesthetic choice that I think limits the writing that would feasibly fit if one adheres to the given space. I suppose one could embrace the tone of the art and poetry as challenging the limits imposed by the daily grind, and simply ignore the lines. While there are thirty-two sheets, there aren’t the same number of pages for each month, so I’m not sure how the publisher envisioned these being used. For instance, month nine has four pages while month ten has two, and month twelve (the month that I think actually needs the most pages as you are dealing with major holidays and gearing up for the next year) only has one. This would probably work fine for jotting down quick thoughts, but for bringing order to the chaos of an adult life or corralling a day of activities, it feels like a misstep.

One of Cahill’s past projects was the graphic novel, Unicorn Death Road Trip Buddy Movie. That title alone tells you a lot about what to expect from the images scattered throughout the planner. The art is loose and open with surreal imagery, much like the poetic voice, building a cohesive and creative welcome for the reader. The lines of the art are visible, unblended strokes and this style reflects a dynamic in-the-moment vigor. The unicorns aren’t your gleaming sparkly childhood dreams of idyllic glades and portal escapes. These unicorns grew up in the anthropocene. The overall impression is one of nighttime images with cascading starlight and secret rituals full of frenetic energy—almost desperate in their big-eyed, possessed longing.

My favorite poem from this collection addresses a detail of the art: the pentagram eyes of the unicorn. The humor of this poem is coupled with a profound sadness leading to the need for self-soothing creativity. “I’m here with you / Alone together / in the vast empty sky at the end of the world”.

This concept of void or a rhythm out of our control pervades the poetry, and I think that makes a nice pairing with the idea of a planner. A way to assert control over what we can, a means of steering the wild-eyed unicorn trying to ride off with our hopes and dreams inside. No matter how magical or beautiful life can be, it’s also often confusing and exhausting. Cahill’s poetry never gives up hope, though. He recognizes the depths, but also lets the light filter through the layers to help the reader see the promise of the future.

“They call it dark // But you and I both know / that is only the best place to see the stars and where else we might go.”

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