Mike Tyson and the End of the World: A Review of Andrew Rihn's Revelation: An Apocalypse in Fifty-Eight Fights by Jack Smith

Andrew Rihn’s Revelation completes a task that for other authors and poets may seem impossible or inconceivable: This collection irrevocably links the career of professional boxer Mike Tyson with a prophetic, didactic, and succinct poetic form. Rihn’s knowledge of the sport comes from his years authoring The Pugilist, a boxing column within Into the Void Magazine. This experience has surely served the poet well as his words in this collection describe an elegant and apocalyptic view of the ring, one that only could be achieved through an intimate understanding of the sport. His cataloguing of details specific to each fight, written in the “notes” section of the book, is even more evidence of the poet’s knowledge and skill.

          Each of these fifty-eight poems of one hundred words communicate not only the results of Tyson’s professional fights, but they also detail the man himself, alone in the ring and staring down mountains with nothing in his eyes but determination. Rihn examines the violence of these bouts not only in terms of physicality but also in the resounding waves that each of Tyson’s punches let ripple throughout history. Within Revelation Tyson is at once simultaneously humanized and apotheosized, with Rihn detailing not only the fighter’s effect on the sport but also his movement from a professional athlete to a media-icon, a household name. Rihn juxtaposes media details about each fight with biblical verse, while also justifying some of the prominent language within the poems by tracing the origin of the words to Tyson himself, further illuminating how powerful of a subject the fighter is for the poetic form.

          The book moves chronologically through Tyson’s career, intimately describing the ascension of the fighter from a young underdog to a dominating gladiator, a force of nature. Some of the fighter’s most influential fights become some of the most powerful pieces in this collection, this is clear early on with “Tyson vs. Richardson.” Rihn uses a description of the knockout punch in conjunction with the sportscaster’s words, ultimately creating a deficit between the comments on Tyson made by the commentator. “Tyson’s neck is approximately the same size of actress Shelly Duvall’s waist.” The sportscasters begin to link Tyson to the larger media, while Rihn decides their words are not enough to describe the might of Tyson’s punches, not enough for Richardson, who falls to Tyson, only seeing “fast motion, popular apocalypse” on his way down to the floor.

          As Rihn moves through Tyson’s career he takes the opportunity to detail some of Tyson’s own words that are poetic in their own context, usage, and meaning. The piece “Tyson vs. Berbick” begins with “What can be said: hydrogen bombs.” Rihn again is demonstrative of the breadth of his knowledge, with Tyson having described his own punches in a post-game interview as hydrogen bombs, a force of ultimate destruction. This is the fight that makes Tyson a heavyweight champion, a note that Rihn relays through his likening of Tyson to the biblical figure of Elijah and the coming of judgment day. This meditation speaks to the motif of the inevitable apocalypse throughout Rihn’s work, of the overpowering force of determination and destruction bridled by one man.

          Rihn continues to track the progression of Tyson from fighter to media superstar as the collection continues, most notably in the piece “Tyson vs. Biggs.” By using descriptions of the reverberations that Tyson’s name inflicts on Western media, Rihn describes how the fighter not only dishes out devastating force, but also how he makes his way into the hearts and minds of those not intimately associated with his sport. “At home we learn to throw electronic punches against myth and man, pajamas and breakfast cereal, alone.” In Tyson’s ascendency through the media this detailing of his wildly profitable videogame Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, is didactic and powerful as Rihn notes how it introduced a generation to not only the man, but also the violence of the man. He pairs his description here with a quote by author Joyce Carol Oates, who states that Tyson’s “grievance has the force of a natural catastrophe.” This pairing of two different media spectrums to describe Tyson historically works incredibly well in delivering a powerful message on the strength of Tyson’s power and influence. Rihn’s work here not only highlights a connection of nostalgia that readers may have to Tyson’s hit videogame, it reintroduces it to the reader as evidence of Tyson’s force both in and outside of the ring.

          In Rihn’s exhaustive detailing of each one of Tyson’s career fights he keeps each piece accessible to the reader, not reserving language of ambiguity or over-complexity for his descriptions of the biggest fights, but instead letting each fight flow into the one that follows, separated only by the page itself. This is especially evident in the piece “Tyson vs. Spinks,” one of the most important career fights for Tyson. Two undefeated champions, each out to prove their the best, but for Rihn this consideration is unimportant. He paints Tyson as being above “the best,” as being an entity in himself, one almost identical to the biblical champion Elijah. Rihn focuses less on the duration of the fight here and more on its aftereffects, calling Tyson “the man who beat the man.” Spinks was the best, and Tyson beat him. For Rihn that means Tyson is better than the best, something outside of comparison. Rihn’s words give the reader a sense of looking upon a great monolith, standing above all others, only contained by the ropes of the ring.

          Revelation: An Apocalypse in Fifty-Eight Fights will be published in January of 2020 with a cover price of $14.95. Distributed by Ingram books and published by Press 53, this daringly creative collection of 98 pages is exuberant and innovative. Rihn creates and substantiates a new poetic form with this work, in which he enlightens the reader not only on the destructive determination of Mike Tyson, but also one the power that one man facing down giants can have, whether it be in the last seconds of a match or on the final day of judgement.

To read Rihn's work in a previous issue of Miracle Monocle, click here.

JACK SMITH is a fiction editor of Miracle Monocle.