"Lala merges verse, academic text, and lyric essay with writing for the stage in an elegiac debut collection meant to be beheld and enacted. This provocative book is designed as an immersive experience, featuring verse that can be classified as poetry only in that it announces itself as such: this is performance, myth creation, and rally cry. In his understated confrontations with forms of societal violence—militarism, climate change, economic collapse—Lala attends to the musicality of language, seductively contrasting the lush with the sparse...a dense and challenging yet rewarding read."
"Simultaneously elegy and poetic sequence, theater and documentary, ekphrastic and translational, the book’s continually self-disrupting and adapting formal range unsettles Chekhov’s economy. These interlocking formal movements suggest the poem not as narrative but as field, a texture of destructive effects and affects, from the rapid immediacy of actual guns (domestic, military) to the longer historical arc of ecological catastrophe that Rob Nixon has called “slow violence.” Lala’s book manifests these cumulative senses of our time, the dull, buzzing inescapable ache that arises when the weapons have come off the stage and constitute the real, everywhere and nowhere.
Through its movements from the elegy to Afghanistan by way of the gun cabinet, Lala’s book ultimately stages a new question, perhaps an inevitable question, for aesthetic work in these times of violence: what happens when Chekhov’s gun becomes a drone, a melting ice cap, a toxic algae bloom? Causality, expectation, inevitability, narrative and poetic pleasure, all must be recast when confronted with the multiple time scales and emergent agencies, whether human or object, executive order or weaponized technology, that constitute the present."
"A book that challenges and resists the vague accumulations of knowledge upon which regimes depend. Across four sections, Exit Theater activates its readers and its texts by effectively manipulating the dictates of performance and poetry to undermine mass media and global catastrophe. It is a book that neither assumes nor denies your participation, but utterly exhausts it...a marvel of genre-straining performances."
"For the speaker in Mike Lala’s inventive, unnerving, and commanding third chapbook, In the Gun Cabinet, the gun cabinet is the salient object-place...I urge you to pick up this book—carefully, because it’s loaded; immediately, because it’s loaded. I can think of few collections more necessary or irreplaceable than this one."
- Julie Marie Wade
"Late in the poem Lala demands, “[A]m I so seduced I believe / the time I spend / & what I produce / are untethered to the economy I live by”? In the Gun Cabinet thus engages a—perhaps the—longstanding avant-garde preoccupation: how, Lala asks, can the aesthetics of modernism be rescued from Clement Greenberg and the CIA? How can modernism be transformed from a tool of state power into a politically radical weapon against the state, its imperialism, its culture of violence? If the question is canonical, Lala’s answer swerves away from the tired, standard strategies of (to take an entirely innocent example) language writing. Rather than placing his faith in, say, syntactic disturbance or radical parataxis—that is, in an acceleration of modernism’s own aesthetic strategies—he uses those strategies to describe himself, to locate himself in an economy of violence. And vice versa: he uses his personal history as a mapping tool, which allows him to sketch the contours of contemporary violence. In this sense, his work stages a rapprochement between many modes of 20th century writing: mingling avant-garde difficulty with confessional directness, polemical energy with aesthetic depth and beauty."
- Toby Altman
"In a time when every week seems to bring more news of atrocity, there is something timely about Mike Lala’s In The Gun Cabinet (TAR) because there is a violence, a fundamental trauma and horror at the core of this chapbook of poems. Here the reader is confronted with a jagged, hemmed in space—a stage, a box, a black box, a theater—in which “the bodies you / inhabit through your life / stand up like guns inside the doors.” The speaker leads us through it, at times hollow and detached—“empty space, window / pane, small space, then screen”—but also processing memory, loss, even sexual trauma, becoming “Not violence (though it felt so) not thought / but something else, crushing / fear.” Especially gripping is the way that the intimate and the violent become so closely entwined; unsettling memories seem to haunt the text as the speaker recalls a “childhood where my father lifted me / to straddle the 30-millimeter, hydraulically driven, seven-barreled / Gatling cannon / on the nose of the plane he flew.” There is a circular narrative at play, a kind of performance as certain kinds of theater—the theater of war, the theater of loss—are exposed, laid bare. This jagged, arresting work asks us to consider “what parts of the story were you told” and “what parts of the story / did you take to be your own.” Lala’s debut full-length collection, Exit Theater, selected by Tyrone Williams as the winner of the 2016 Colorado Prize for Poetry, will be out later this year."
- Mark Gurarie
"...the gun cabinet rises as a monolith to annunciate a series of cruel family events, becalmed of violence as much as it is complicit with a violence. Embedded in this chapbook are screenshots of static, a dismantling of roles, an appetite for destruction, an interrogation of trauma, and a one-act play of the self."
- Natalie Eilbert
"I’m suspicious of overtly personal or confessional poems in a culture that is (still) obsessed with individualism, personal identity (its discovery, not its politics) and memoir, but I also felt the need, and ready, to write something that dealt with my personal connection to American militarism and cultural violence.
In the Gun Cabinet comes out of these complex personal relationships to family, paternity and brotherhood; placelessness; state violence; and on a very basic level the knowledge that the hand that fed me as a child is the hand of death. It’s one aspect of my life—who I am—that I needed to put down in a time of war."
"So much of our lives are saturated with news from afar, news that makes us angry, but that also feels like material that we can only access partially, news that’s often incorrect, manipulated, sensationalized, biased, whatever.
- Cathy Linh Che