02 Jun Guillaume Morissette
THOUGHTS ON TWO BOOKS
Poems are whatever you decide they are. Something can be a poem for me, but not a poem for you. That’s totally okay. Overall, I often feel like my favorite poetry is just poetry that hates other poetry, which is why I kind of like it when something just forces me to read it, or when my assumptions are challenged.
I read Scarecrone by Melissa Broder back in maybe February, and Spencer Madsen’s You Can Make Anything Sad a week ago while in the train from New York to Montreal. Both collections were released earlier this year by Publishing Genius, which is based in Baltimore, and though the two books don’t express themselves in the same way at all, I still feel like they fit really well with one another, like two people who don’t look alike but are somehow wearing the same shirt at a party. Both titles are easy to read, stimulating, funny, often surprising, and involve narrators tackling life problems that don’t have logical answers, trying really hard to get their thought process to reach some sort of equilibrium.
I opened my eyes on day 0
and said to the universe SHAKE ME
and the universe complied
which felt too real
so I build another universe
within the universe
and crawled inside
(from “A Place of ____?”)
In Scarecrone, Melissa Broder fleshes out the persona that she’s developed in her poems and on Twitter, where thousands of people, me included, follow her witty, funny, off-the-wall metaphysical ramblings. Wikipedia tells me that a crone is a stock character in folklore and fairy tales, an old woman who can be disagreeable or sinister, has magical or supernatural powers and possesses occult wisdom. That seems like a pretty spot-on description of Broder’s persona, which is probably that of a modern-day crone.
Broder’s poems seem, to me, like they’re less interested in sentimentality, and more interested in chaos, or total and absolute freedom. I admire the energy this gives her writing. There are many lines in this collection that are powerful and instantly tweetable, and some of my favorites come from her willingness to use the “I” as a kind of play object. Through her persona, Broder bypasses physical boundaries, removes herself to an astral plane and relieves herself of all her impractical fantasies, impossible contradictions, failures, mistakes and anxieties. At times, her poems have a kind of demolition derby quality to them, in that they really feel like beautiful destruction.
What makes Scarecrone fun, I feel, is that Broder fully commits to her persona and doesn’t break character. Instead, she comes across as convinced that the conflicts in her poems—with God, the self, hot shamans, a dead husband, winged creatures, computers, the universe, etc—are totally real, and playing themselves out on a stage in front of her. Broder’s poems are at their most interesting when they’re excessive, insane, deeply uninhibited, exhibitionistic and neuroses-heavy.
I call it sex
because I don’t know
how else to say
terrified of dying.
(from “Satisfy The Desolate”)
When I say I am a fierce woman I mean I am a gentle woman.
When I say I am a gentle woman I mean leave me alone.
(from “Power Nothing”)
The cosmos is vomiting all over your legs.
Is this how shallow
my heart is yes
(from “Today’s Cauldron”)
Quiet fucks me good
(from “Living Downers”)
This collection reminded me, at times, of Le Contre-Ciel by René Daumal, who experimented with drugs and was interested in spirituality and out-of-body experiences. Daumal didn’t really have Broder’s sensibilities or sense of humor, but the metaphysical ambitions don’t seem that far off, I think. The poems in Scarecrone sometimes tend to sprawl a bit, but then again, they also allows emulate, in that format, a pattern of soul-searching, which seems to make sense. In the end, I feel like what these poems want from me is to embrace my inner abyss, seek bliss, even if bliss is unattainable, or doesn’t even exist.
The worst part of talking to people is when they want you to respond.
Most people have more efficient ways of dealing with their emotions than writing books.
My ideal editor would tell me she hates me and my book and she regrets publishing me and everyone else she’s ever published and that she should’ve just gone to law school or gotten a business degree because fiction and poetry are dying and it’s the fault of people like her.
(from “Friday, November 16, 2012”)
I think I read somewhere that Spencer wanted to call the entries in his book “things” instead of “poems.” “Thing” is probably my favorite word, so I should be in favor of this, but after reading You Can Make Anything Sad, I kind of disagree: They feel like poems.
You Can Make Anything Sad is structured as a series of personal notes arranged in linear order. One poem is titled, “Monday, October 1, 2012” while another is, “Monday, January 28, 2013.” By “poem,” writers usually mean “overly complicated, weirdly shaped block of text using alien language to describe something to you,” but what Madsen means here is just “thoughtfully edited notes from my computer.” I like how logical and self-explanatory the structure is, how it links all the poems together organically and provides a built-in narrative arc that poetry books rarely have, with some progression from one poem to the next.
The most basic subtext of everything cats do is “Fuck you, love me.”
The most basic subtext of everything people put on the internet is “Hello.”
(from “Sunday, October 13, 2012”)
In this collection, the narrator is, at all times, either one of, or all of: funny, overly melodramatic, lonely, quiet, lucid, moody, adrift, insecure, fatalistic, unappeasable and somehow both vulnerable and indifferent. Some entries are written as a series of “truisms”, Jenny Holzer-style short statements that you can either agree or disagree with. These can be a little hit-or-miss, though when you agree with the statement, it seems rewarding and important and releases dopamine in your brain.
Fuck you, love me, quoted above, is also a good way to describe the narrator’s tone. He doesn’t present himself as a heroic figure, but more as that part of ourselves that hates what it is and feels bad about that, but can’t help itself. This is kind of balanced by the “Keila” character, who comes across as a little more upbeat than the narrator. This dynamic makes for fun interactions at times (“A hurricane is coming. Hurricane Sandy. Keila says she’s isn’t scared because all the Sandys she knows are dogs and dogs are usually good.”), and if you read too much into it, like I did, you can almost start perceiving Keila as the narrator’s “foil.”
I liked reading You Can Make Anything Sad. The book’s strengths, to me, are its wit, honesty, smooth structure, refreshing straightforwardness and decent variety (the collection contains several interludes, all titled things like, “Selections From Wikipedia’s List of Dogs Who Remained Loyal After Their Owner’s Death”). This is a book I can show to people whose work I view as too complicated, or just don’t feel like putting in the effort to understand, and then just say, “You should try doing something like this.” I feel like the part of me that likes novels was craving more well-established characters to complement the narrator and a little more narrative development, especially since the format would lend itself really well to that, but then again, it’s also possible that this is just what Spencer will do next, write a novel and then ask his editor to publish it as a “thing.”