Friday, September 23, 2011

Speak Low by Carl Phillips

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009. The highest compliment to a book you love might be not being able to articulate why you love it. I can tell you that I love Phillips' use of recursive as he tries again and again to pin down how to say what he's saying, as well as whether or not what he says is valid. I can tell you that I love how Philips uses sex, and particularly the dynamics of power within rough sex, to ground these  cerebral and philosophical poems. I can tell you these poems are hot. I can tell you they are intellectually demanding. None of this really gets to the heart of why I like this book, why I keep picking it up and reading poems at random, reading them out loud to anyone who will listen, holding up the book and saying, "You must read this." You're one of those people now.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Heavy Petting by Gregory Sherl

YesYes Books, 2011. Let’s just put this out there: while reading this book, you will want to put it down and go nuzzle something that can nuzzle back. You will probably get a little hot and bothered. You’ll want to brush your teeth and then dip a finger in frosting. You will most certainly want to be kind.

Our generation is often called “The Selfish Generation” by older people who believe they are less selfish than we are. In a lot of ways, I agree that a fair few of us might as well bop around singing “Here I am, me me me me me!” while simultaneously updating our iPhones, iPads and personal Facebook profiles. And yet, while the speaker of Heavy Petting may be self-loving at times, this is only because he doesn’t have any other choice. Because when we turn ourselves inside-out from selfish to selfless for another selfish person, what happens? We’ve all gone from “I love you like waterfalls love shampoo commercials,” “touch you like a showerhead,” “fuck like a clothesline on a Saturday afternoon” to feeling like “every rejected Snapple fact,” “stuck inside your Easy Bake Oven” and “so/ far apart from each other it’s like we’re not even connected by stars. The stars said/ fuck it and gave up.” At some point we’ve all said: “Like: even when I love you I get lonely.” Maybe the older generation has it all wrong about us.

This past week I attended a reading by a writer who’d published a memoir about growing up in South Africa. During the Q&A, a snarky undergrad from the back asked, “Does it ever bother you that it’s self-indulgent to write a memoir?” The writer chuckled and responded brilliantly, “Do I ever feel it’s self-indulgent? Yes. Does it bother me? No.” Everyone laughed, but then he turned back to the undergrad and said, “You know, I think that what’s most important to avoid being self-indulgent in our writing [because, I mean, seriously, how can you not write about yourself in some way?] is to always be curious about yourself.” That answer really stuck with me. After all, isn’t being curious about yourself being curious about humanity in general?

Heavy Petting is a collection that is at once luxurious and exuberant in its voice and wholly generous and empathetic in its heart. We can sling-shot from the aching image: “I have cried so many days there is a river under my bed. The monster has grown/ gills, webs between its toes,” to: “When we kiss, the audience sighs. Some asshole coughs” as well as literal drawings of “a firefly eating a bear” and “An anorexic banana.” It’s like we have been vaulted into a world that is both alien and yet unmistakingly familiar. I promise you: you won’t want to leave. And, you’ll most likely want to bring somebody along with you.

You have been warned.