In 2011, the Baltimore-based small press Publishing Genius released a split chapbook comprised of Amber Nelson’s Your Trouble Is Ballooning and A. Minetta Gould’s Arousing Notoriety. While each poet writes in her own unique style, both halves of this double-book offer readers a compelling poetic experience.
Nelson’s Your Trouble Is Ballooning opens with an epigraph from Lyn Hejinian’s The Language of Inquiry, which reads: “language is a medium for experiencing experience.” And it would appear that in the meta-experience of “experiencing experience,” the trouble that is ballooning is the medium of experience, which according to Hejinian is language.
Everywhere in her chapbook, then, Nelson troubles language. Take, for instance, the opening of poem “3.2”:
Less unison than violence, very often
sparrowing He understood according to the even
migration of voices befuddled wanting recess gravity
two windows consolation catered by churches as
to what is sacred mouth of sick & searching happiness
time of good health
Employing techniques such as fractured syntax, abstraction, and non-normative use of punctuation and white space, the poem enacts “violence” upon normative language practices, leaving readers “befuddled” if they attempt to access it by traditional means. Instead, one must take flight with a “migration of voices” or listen to the “sacred mouth of [the] sick” not in order to understand, but, instead, to be subsumed by the experience of the experience (i.e. the poem) and the world which it creates.
This willful disorientation asks the reader to enter the medium of language and allow the poems themselves to be the experience, as opposed to mediating experience. So, when we encounter a poem such as “7.4” that reads in its entirety:
consider a baby
to break me with
accessory and purchase
what means umbilical
ocean my chest
children are echoes
recall your skeleton
with my organs
we burn underground
like how eggs
acquiesce into vacancy
Nelson and, perhaps, Hejinian don’t want us to ask: “What does it mean”; rather, they might have us ask: “How are you feeling” and “What are you thinking.” In short: “What was your experience within the poem?”
While Nelson’s poems work to create an experience within language, Gould’s Arousing Notoriety reads as a series of apostrophes, missives to, and declarations about former lovers; in other words, an experience within love. During the opening poem, “Banjo Affair,” the speaker sings to her lover:
O, [it is sad]
Banjo is lean
Later on in Arousing, the speaker sings out in “Strong Heart Affair”:
O, my Strong
Heart is real; he
donates to NPR
for our anniversary
Gould laces these and other short poems throughout her collection, and the speakers sing out to loves with names as varied as Half Organ, Russia, and Bowtie. By calling out, singing, or simply invoking these names, the speaker seems to address a past she sometimes forgets but wants to remember. She tells us as much in the beginning of “Strong Heart Event”:
I forget sometimes what it feels
like to be asleep & love someone
named after a noun or bodily function.
These “Affair” poems, then, serve to remind both the speaker and whoever will listen what it means to be loved by this cast of characters “named after a noun or bodily function” and the feelings that such lovers once instilled within her.
Although these are love poems (or, better stated, remembrance poems of love past), Gould’s poetry does not succumb to the bathos or sentimentality to which poems of this genre often fall prey. In fact: “These poetries are / cracked & broken & ugly & naked” in a way that creates a complex emotional milieu. Take, for example, “Bear Amour”:
Having no other means to express ourselves, we hold fallen
leaves desperate not to crush them; like they aren’t already dead.
Where Bear gracefully stares
off onto a different
flavor of couplet
I stand a soliloquy.
This does not mean the same thing as
vegetarian meatloaf. This does not
mean the same to me as it does
I remember years ago
Bear planted his heart
under a stone in Washington,
D.C. Bear remembers missing me.
Thinking only in memories, we digress together about C major scales & Eramus Darwin in stage plays or possibly chartreuse.
No doubt, if read in isolation, one could consider the poem’s penultimate stanza to be a bit too cute for its own good. But when placed within the poem’s broader context, which addresses the failure of language (i.e. “Having no other means to express ourselves…”) and contains meta-poetic statements (i.e. the second stanza), as well as absurdist gestures (i.e. “This does not mean the same thing as / vegetarian meatloaf.”), the thematic shifts of the poem produce an overall effect that is emotionally and intellectually dynamic. To this extent, then, the poetic maneuvering leaves readers both “badly disoriented & a lover” in all the best ways, creating for us an aestheticized experience of love.