30 Apr

Smiles of the Unstoppable
by Jason Bredle
Magic Helicopter Press
Perfect-bound–76 pgs.

Tutoring struggling writers, I hear “I just don’t know how to start.” Me neither. See, I read Smiles of the Unstoppable by Jason Bredle and thought it was pretty coolinterestingtalkaboutable, but how do I start this review? The cover! No, not the cover. J.A. Tyler started this way. Sean Lovelace also covered that. How’s this? Sean and I, along with some other sweet writers, are cruising down the highway to the Slash Pine Festival in Alabama and I ask my question: WHAT IN THE WORLD IS EVERYONE READING? Sean goes, I’m about to review Smiles of the Unstoppable by Jason Bredle. I’m not kidding: I was holding this book. He goes, I thought the kid was puking, but I guess he’s bobbing for apples. I guess that above story does the trick is a thought I just had to start this review of Jason Bredle’s Smiles of the Unstoppable.

Poems all over this book start like “something something something/is a thought I keep having/is a sentence I hope to use/some other distanced connector.” Or maybe he does this thing in the middle. He starts somewhere else and pulls it back to the page with this device and pow, good stuff. Here’s the first poem’s, “Red Soda,” beginning:

Cómo se dice please don’t kill me
is a question I hope to never ask someone while vacationing
is a thought many people have before falling asleep each night
is something I once read in a guidebook
to a place
I may never visit
is something you once wrote on a piece of paper
and tore into smaller pieces
and threw from the observation deck of a tall building
which I thought gorgeous

I think I know why people (ME INCLUDED) like these kinds of poems and devices. They knock you off balance to move forward, to get going, enough standing around. Bredle also, as evidenced later in this poem (read the rest at H_NGM_N) is a big fan of repetition. These two devices together tangle the reader into a spinning, off-balanced place. When the twirling stops, it’s a catch your breath, breath of fresh air, air guitar, guitar hero kind of thing. We just sigh and go hmmmm, what happened, but killer riff.

Here’s what has happened: Bredle takes the emotional and slaps it around playfully, using his honed techniques to pop readers in the heartskull to end in a beautiful BOOYEAH:

I’d driven to work like always,
but on this day I thought
there are people who think about what they’re doing
and there are people who feel what they’re doing
and of those two categories I fall into the latter,
which I wrote on a piece of paper when I arrived at work
and tore into smaller pieces
and threw from the observation deck of a tall building.
I hope you find them, because if you do I think it might mean
we’re supposed to be together.

Moments like this, I raise the roof at the amazingness of the stacking and flipping Bredle does.

Sometimes, all the motion has me wondering what’s up. Like the first time I read “The Song Banana.” It follows this similar tactic, but stays hidden in its humor and absurdity. Never gets to the HELLO THIS IS ME moment that “Red Soda” and a lot of the other poems do. I’ve re-read this poem again and again and I’m still torn. There are some killer ideas here, like when Bredle wonders if a cashier could solve the equation of his relationships or asks “What if I told you I was en route to having an affair?” My fear is that bisecting these references, like he does here with a Wesley Snipes reference, creates a pinball effect that steals the shake from the emotional impact.

Still, this book exists in a wacky space Bredle has created. Though in a few poems of this collection I start slapping around and I’m not sure if it’s tilting me in a good direction or not, spending more and more time with these poems, I’m getting the sense of how these techniques Bredle’s mastered often knock me out. Bredle’s thoughtfulness and discursiveness are a lethal combo that have the energy and breadth to take a poem a great distance, a great speed, even if it ends up right back where it started. Or some place entirely new.

I just read “Clouds” for probably the 25th time. Okay okay okay. This poem grabs me by the shoulder with its repetition, humor, and plain-spoken openness and shakes me like WAKE UP KNUCKLEHEAD. Along the way, Bredle touches on some major questions, like “Is it true you slept with him/because you didn’t know how to say goodbye?/Do you regret it?/I always wonder about people who say/they have no regrets./I regret things I did twenty minutes ago.” YES, Jason, YES. I’m digging where this is going, And when we get here to this “you,” WOAH JUST WOAH:

and you said something about clouds
and we had this brilliant conversation about clouds
but I missed the turn and had to make a u-turn
and someone honked
and you reached over me, honked back, and yelled out the window
hey asshole, maybe you wouldn’t be so upset
if you thought about clouds sometimes!

But when poems end, when books end, when reviews end, what’s next? How do things even end, especially good things? They do and it’s sad. But sometimes, there are backcovers, like with this book. Bredle’s author picture is a cartoon portrait and his mouth is open like a guillotine or wicked piano keys. When Mark Halliday says in his blurb that Bredle “roams like a cartoon jaguar,” I get it: it’s playful and biting.


  1. ce. April 30, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

    Great review, dude. I need to get this book. That closing passage of “Clouds” is fantastic.

  2. tlgobble April 30, 2011 at 7:13 pm #

    Thanks Christopher. I highly suggest it OBVIOUSLY. That poem is one of my favorite poems that I’ve read in a long while. You know how one gets a song stuck in the head or click that next on the Ipod over and over to get to that jam: Every time I’m near this book I read “Clouds.” GOODNESS

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  1. Vouched Books Satellite Column on Smalldoggies | Vouched Books Presents What to Read This Summer | Smalldoggies Magazine - June 9, 2011

    […] my review at Vouched Books: “Still, this book exists in a wacky space Bredle has created…I’m getting the sense […]

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