A Review: I Take Back The Sponge Cake by Loren Erdrich and Sierra Nelson (Rose Metal Press)

11 Feb
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I Take Back The Sponge Cake
by Loren Erdich and Sierra Nelson
Rose Metal Press, $14.95

The worst Single-Sentence Review ever: Reading this is my experience, says so on the cover, also, it’s an adventure, says that too on the cover, so what more could I want from poetry–adventure that’s all mine.

Seriously, that’s what the joint force of Loren Erdrich and Sierra Nelson have done in “I Take Back The Sponge Cake”: they’ve created a slim little escape for us all.

Erdrich’s sketches plop us beside strange beings and inside wacky stills. Faces with eyes dazed and elsewhere. Lots of bodies, chunks of them smeared. Outlines and borders of these bodies and objects incomplete and scratched. All like grainy ghosts overlooking you as you pass.

Nelson’s poems wiggle into the weird dark clouds expanding over it all, drifting down to surround. The “I” wrangled by ineptitude and aloneness. From the poem titles, like the brilliant “An Orchestra Built For You,” to the individual lines, like the poem of the same title as the ending, “Your small ears are necessary/to my/day,” the “you” shifting in and out of focus, you being invited, you as a part of this (strange) party.

And the word pairs and weighted sentences toss you back into the frantic wonderment of childhood, interacting with art, finding new, surprising language wherever you go.

This is how it goes—A small poem, an ink and watercolor drawing, a sentence with a blank and a homophonic word pair choice, a thunderoll to another page.

Example sentence: “The ________ of him in bed.” Example word pair for that sentence: size/sighs. Choose wisely: the word you choose dictates the next poem/image you consume.

The word pairs are almost begging you to choose the less-obvious, more poetic of the word pair. Or maybe they are both the poetic, nestled in the cracks between the drawing and the poem.

Why it may not create the biggest adventure, the act of choosing, of making one’s own meaning with the sentences, the consequence of where it takes you, and the fact it’s all yours, or so it seems, is a rattling device.

For everyone, the book starts with “You Will Go Back Again,” a short initial push off the blocks, but also an omen of the nature of the journey and where you must go to get it all.

Warning: You’ll never get through it all, at least not following the choices, this thing has its own scratched path.

As the authors explained in the introduction, AND WERE TOTALLY RIGHT, the art and the poems don’t explain each other, but they act as a “dynamic conversation when viewed together.”

Like in “Pseudomorph,” a poem that seems to be about an octopus/squid (beginning like “Releasing a false body/my shadow emerges and//I am all/stun,//while she is all/a body//a dark/slipped off”) but the accompanying drawing slices that connection into the journey’s physical presence–two bodies, arms around each other’s shoulders, one shaded, one not. Meaning is the cart you ride in through the art/poems.

In “Sponge Cake,” there’s a strange creature of sponge cake-like consistency, who seems to be on the beach, who seems to be on the beach with his paws over a fallen human-ish body, and then the poem ends: “More and more I forget to put messages in/to the bottles I keep/throwing out to see.”

That’s what I love so much about this book, how the art isn’t merely an accessory, how the choose-your-own-adventure part isn’t a gimmick, they’re all crucial boards on the bridge we’re crossing, this beautiful thing “invoking a process of inquiry,” as the authors also correctly say in their introduction.

Proof? How about “Glutter?” Featuring the same illustration as the cover—this disembodied, bright blue-eyed rabbit head—this poem simply reading “Do you think of me first as a girl—/or do you think of me first as a skeleton girl?” And no adventure choice, just a bunch of white space and the italicized sentence that says “The vessel soon became a ______.”

This is the shining truth of this book, the hallmark flag: it is what’s inside that matters most (that old thing revived!), the possible meanings and connections, our tilted head in consideration of if this head was ever even attached, if this hand really belongs to a body.

Go check this book out, now, please.

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