Sunday, June 15, 2008
that so tiny! so insane! so voluptuousness!!
That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness is a book of collaborative email poems by Elisa Gabbert and Kathleen Rooney. The book is always clever, mostly light-hearted, sometimes crass, and occasionally wise. "Tips for Better Writing" is one among many about writing and/or poetry. Here’s a few wise lines from "Tips...": "...You’re better off embittered// & careless than carred & idealistic, haunting themed bars./ P.S. If you ask who’s winning, you automatically lose." That last line is good, it’s like looking back at the shark you’re swimming fruitlessly away from, it’s the need for fanatical, blind faith in one’s self in order to endure as a poet, wrongheaded meddling be damned. The lines that precede the post script are better, though, because they prick the ear with a music Gabbert and Rooney do possess: forget about what the line means: "better," "embittered," "careless than carred" "themed bars." Carred? Is this a typo? Oh, I hope not, I hope it means "to be with car." No, it’s not a typo. Rather, typical of the book's wit.
Two poems in the book interest me especially, stand out because the language almost takes over (though never completely; Gabbert and Rooney always tug a narrative thread. Usually a joke). Here is "O, Lucky Pushpin!"
Bastard blood leaves bastard stains
antic on the landscape: paper, Arctic
circle, Rock of Ages: God trumps
contagion, God trumps trumpets,
even playing “Taps.” Play craps
w/ angels & you’re likely to lose.
Choose only one path in life, &
one epitaph. God trumps cages.
Only God can touch the animals
the way they want to be touched
Man turns to animal slowly,
in stages. Angels become us.
Typically, the language becomes less wild as the poem moves to its close/conclusion, and nothing in this poem beats the first couplet, but the repetitions and the off-rhymes keep the lines quick. I would love to see what they begin here pushed; I'd love to see purpose ignored for the pure pleasure of pace and word. (As it stands, though, "O, Lucky Pushpin!" is excellent.)
Here’s the opening lines from "II.," the other that interests me most: "She kept a chamois-soft list of Things That Set My Heart Aflutter/ & she sent it in a letter, the envelope encrusted with ruby glitter.// The fire-engine sound. The baby-sitter. Her trusty mechanical pencil/ w/ the .5 mm lead scraped the rough paper: Rainwater in the gutter." Thus begins a poem in form, I believe a gazelle? I can’t remember. The form forces Gabbert and Rooney to carry the beautiful language from the first lines most of the way through; the form alone cannot be credited with the music here: the language catches the mouth and tongue and leads lively across the page, right to the solemn end of the poem.
That these are collaborations interests me, mainly because I don’t like to collaborate as Gabbert and Rooney do, that is, back and forth (ask Rooney, she knows!), and I find it amazing that it ever works. I imagine that Gabbert hits the downbeats, but I don’t know. All that’s clear to me is that both Gabbert and Rooney sometimes let sound lead their pens, and somehow when they’re together that isn’t cancelled out. Collaboration too often leads to a middle ground; here it does not.
Some of the poems in the book are on their blog, Even the Details Have Details. And I note, or confess, that I responded to every poem in the comments field with a poem of my own. As I wrote my poems--all extensively built on Gabbert and Rooney’s language--I essentially emphasized what I like most in their work, the music, and deemphasized meaning, cleverness, and conclusions. This is not to suggest that my way is the way, but I’d love to see their future collaborative projects veer into full-on language experiment, because the results could be gorgeous. That’s not a criticism, it’s a request.
I know both poets, and Rooney is publishing my book (Color Plates, Rose Metal Press, 2009), so this review is written entirely without bias. If you buy That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness, you will spend $12.50. Some of that money will go to Otoliths press. “Otoliths” means, by the way, "fun with spontaneous," and is best known for its coffee-table books depicting the shoes of those who combusted unexpectedly. The cover of That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness features--and they will deny this--a picture of Gabbert’s legs and Rooney’s infamous blue beehive wig.