Archive by Author

Pop Quiz: This Last Time Will Be the First

10 Jun

Answer the following for Jeff Alessandrelli’s This Last Time Will Be the First.

Which is NOT a statement by Alessandrelli in the book?

  • “Always burn the sheets after you fuck in them”
  • “Don’t bob for apples in gasoline”
  • “Dressing in clothes that don’t fit properly is one way to refuse the future”

The best metaphor for Jeff Alessandrelli’s This Last Time Will Be the First is:

  • “You” as your own imaginary friend
  • Not a picture, but rather a series of endless frames
  • Marginalia of an erased text

Who is NOT a person referenced by Alessandrelli in the book?

  • Erik Satie
  • Harryette Mullen
  • John DeLorean

When reading Alessandrelli’s book, it’s most important to ask:

  • How will one ever learn the years are a test?
  • Is there anything impossible to whistle?
  • What is so wrong about playing the flute?

The best way to understand Jeff Alessandrelli’s This Last Time Will Be the Frist is encapsulated by which statement?

  • The world is just a box full of people
  • The voice is not what is discloses
  • Poems are postcards to a continually receding “you”

Pop Quiz: The Book of Joshua by Zach Schomburg

17 Mar

The Book of Joshua 02j

Answer the following for Zach Schomburg’s The Book of Joshua.

The experience of reading the poems in the first section of The Book of Joshua, “Earth” feels like:

  • It’s hard to know what’s hell or not
  • Hearing the hum of refrigerators when none are present
  • Listening to your voice on an answering machine
  • Realizing words are tiny blue swans you can only hold awhile before they melt

While reading The Book of Joshua it’s most important to know:

  • The years are not really years
  • “I am not/ you you/ are not me” is the “message” of language
  • This is only further proof of your badness
  • Blood will float a boat as well as water

In “Mars,” the second section of Zach Schomburg’s The Book of Joshua, we see which theme explored?

  • Estrangement
  • Estrangement
  • Estrangement
  • Estrangement

Reading The Book of Joshua feels like:

  • Being called the wrong name for your entire life
  • Listening to a recording of yourself sleep
  • There will soon be a difference between sadness and suffering
  • Scrubbing blood off a horse

The significance of titling the final section of The Book of Joshua “Blood” is:

  • The blood of a poem is words
  • There is no such thing as a “body”
  • The difference between correlation and causation is language
  • A telephone ringing behind a locked door

Review: Rag by Julie Carr

16 Feb


Julie Carr’s fifth book, Rag, is a book characterized more by the way that it looks than what it looks at. Rag is more about the process of contextualization itself than staging a context for the meditations or anecdotes of a cohesive “I” “behind” or “outside of” the text. Carr wants a poetry that is atmospheric—not the dictation of an imaginary I, but rather a glimpse of the network of exchanges that I participates in. As Carr writes in the opening poem, “One’s body is in response” (11). Rag is a book of self-abandon, but not in the terms we usually think. Carr forfeits a cohesive self to see the larger strictures—such as gender, race, narrative, and memory—inside which a self is structured.

In Rag, this self-abandon as abandoning the self is a desire to diffuse back into the larger law from which the self first demarcated. For a speaker to exist, she must be defined as “other than.” This difference is what makes her subject to the law (which guarantees intersubjectivity) but simultaneously makes her blind to it (since “she” is a product of—not a participant in—these exchanges). In Rag, the speaker becomes negative space, a kind of absence the text can fill. Car writes:

 To my own face with its endless changes endless sameness its eyes

I said no. I wanted to be a hole. In the road, the garden

Dust across my keys, sugar in my teeth, to the jaw of the bus driver as I boarded the bus

I said no. Today I will not remove the isolated hair from my basin. Not figure

Some cleaner end (83)

By relinquishing subjective cohesion, the speaker in Rag becomes extra-narrative. Causality becomes less clear as everything moves from order to contiguity. The poems themselves are mimetic of this entropy as well. Rag moves between pages of fragments, frequently bookended by dashes, to long blocks of prose broken only by the margins.

And so Rag is a book of continual disruptions. A “thing” represents a closure as its “use” becomes solidified in the symbolic order. A new thing only becomes possible at sites of disjunction. Carr is not interested in “product” in the form of narrative, anecdote, ect… Rather, Carr wants the static of thought before it reaches a symbolic channel. Carr writes:

And we with eye averted sat by the crying woman. Resting elbows on our knees in a posture of care/disregard. Just as on a plane a woman three rows back, seated between two suited men, suddenly began to sob—loud and unabashed, not othering to wipe her tears, not covering her face, just sitting staring forward, wailing like a baby. No one said anything. Not the men—one gazed out the window, the other continued to read his screen as if nothing—not the attendants, who did not come. Now in heavy spring snow, a tree loses a limb. And we are glad—an opening where was a thing. Then she stops crying and her face clears to resemble the sidewalk beside the DMV. Without anything to create shade, anything at all, the people come and go— (18)

For Carr, the page is a pane of glass. She writes: “Between the law and the living being—the unnamable being with no nation—/ is a point of imbalance, steadied by no home/ Hanging from clouds, intricate environments I will come to miss/ You cannot stop time. Seeking paradise, invent glass” (46). The poems in Rag are a way into, gestures of looking and not things made.

The paradoxical goal of the self-abandon Carr’s speaker performs is that by removing herself from the symbolic equation and instead providing us with the hidden productive forces of individual conscious, she regains some measure of ownership of herself. Or, as Car more succinctly writes, “Whose theatre is it now?” (34). Car’s speaker exists in a kind of conscious-unconscious, an inverse of unconscious-conscious of an unexamined “I.” Unfortunately, the forfeit in both cases is a humanist version of a self-determined “I.” Car writes:

In the passivity of belonging to an order

she was the first disappearing term

The more others are heard the more she is lost

And drivers consider their destinations

consider their destination to be worthy (115)

The speaker of these poems exists in suspension, moving without destination between the ego and the larger symbolic network that both allows for and forecloses the possibility of its existence.

While all this may make the text seem laborious, Rag isn’t forced. Car keeps her philosophical investments while still creating moments of real lyric beauty. There’s something about Rag that feels as if the whole text is something overhead. Rag manages to be haunted by itself. Reading it feels like listening to it on a tape recorder, locked in room with no key.

Best Thing I’ve Read This Week: Dear Corporation

7 May


Adam Fell’s second collection, Dear Corporation (H_NGM_N Books, 2013), is written to the gods of the twenty first  century, those entities capable of bending the course of history that are simultaneously indifferent to the lives of people who will live through it. Fell’s epistles are survey responses given as manifestos, comment cards in the form of maltov cocktails.

Fell’s Dear Corporation is a call to riot. It screams in the face of welling indifference and easy neo-liberalism that characterizes the opening of our new millennium. He writes:

Politicians never counted on us. Wall Street never counted on us. The cadaverous yuppies and their screaming vegan babies never counted on us. Investment bankers swear they keep finding our faces burned into their zeroes and ones like belligerent, binary Marys. They feel our fingers down the throats of their housing bubbles, our teeth foreclosing on the napes of their uninsured necks. To put it more delicately: I want you to fuck the fiscal responsibility out of me. I want you to fuck me until universal health care. We are the only thing that is too big to fail, so put down the briefcase and come skin the rabbit with me.  (22)

Fell wants to stain the immaculate corporate surfaces over which we crawl like ants looking for spilled Coke. He strips out the eggshell-painted drywall, pulls up the laminate flooring made to look like real wood grain to show us the chaos a corporation is trying to cover with its flattening of human experience. Fell states:

[S]o let me get my wolf cub teeth right into the deer heart of our matter: there is a brimming and braveness and feral intelligence to you that I’m taken with. Where I suspect a wilderness may be, a wilderness usually is, and I can’t help but explore. My dear Corporation, you are the PJ Harvey of the investment banking world, the Margaret Atwood of subprime mortgage lenders. You say you are unfamiliar with the taste of man, but I know a dive bar in Red Hook that proves you a liar.  (54)

Fell uses the corporation to represent everything that isn’t corporeal. Just as the word no longer contains the human body, the corporation Fell addresses is one that has moved past the human experience, and the letters Fell writes could be as easily addressed to Target as the US government.

In Dear Corporation Fell wants to anchor humanity in people instead of the illusory capital, both economic and cultural, held in corporations. Fell writes:

Adam and Eve with the apple unbit never had to un-coin their eyes to imbalance, inequity, the ingenuity and ignorance and incessant allure of the world. To wake in the dark of the woods and realize we have been created at all is to realize we have not always been, that we will not always be. We are not born to stake a claim, but to claim a stake in each other, to burn alive if needed in the pure resurrection of our simultaneous decay. (27)

Fell locates himself with people. Fell is like a human submarine sending out waves of noise in the hopes of having someone give him a signal as to where he is. Ultimately, Dear Corporation is a letter asking us to write back.

And that’s what I found so successful about this book, it’s willingness to be human, to say anything to get us to connect with it as a human document. Dear Corporation is prosaic. It digresses. It writes vaguely inappropriate postcards. It sings with the radio when it’s drunk. It may, at times, lack artifice, but never art.

Best Thing I’ve Read This Week: The Rusted City

13 Apr

If Michel Gondry and William Faulkner were to team up and write a book about Cleveland, you might wind up with something akin to Rochelle Hurt’s debut collection The Rusted City (White Pine Press, 2014). Hurt’s collection is about not only a city collapsing in on itself, but also a family.

Hurt’s collection is decadent in the truest sense of the word. We watch as the rusted city eats itself alive. In one poem, Hurt writes:

The City Swallows/ falling scraps like a dog at a dinner table, it’s river tongue-lapping  them in from the lip of the shore. It jostles them down its throat, shaking an old tune out as the scraps rub and clash their way underground, groaning into beds of dirt. This is the din that’s rattled centuries of the city’s floorboards. But as far as the smallest sister knows, it is only the cymbal hymn the earth has always been humming— (18)

But through its erosion, the city gains a quiet dignity, a kind of aura. Like snow, the rust that covers this city makes everything beautiful, even as it erases it.

Of course, the city isn’t the only thing falling apart. Conjoined with the rusted metropolis’ fate is a family. There is a mother who pines for a lost father, a man who works at the one surviving mill. Hurt writes:

 The Quiet Mother Smiles/ as she tells her two daughters of the favorite father. ‘He’ll be your favorite too,’ she says, smoothing her hair with her palm. The smallest watches as red dust brushed loose falls from her mother’s head and collects on the kitchen tile, already stained a dull orange… The quiet mother tugs a gold ring form one of her fingers and hands it to the smallest sister. The ring is heavy as a marble in the smallest sister’s hand, and heavier every minute—a rock, anxious to be let go. The quiet mother picks up chips of rust from where the ring had hugged her finger and blows on it like something too hot, sending a storm of red to the floor.  (16)

However, if the father’s absence has left the family to slowly decompose, his presence is no less destructive. The father is obsessed with the spectacle of destruction. In one poem, Hurt writes:

The Roller Coaster is Burning, the Favorite/ father tells his daughters, buttoning their chin and ear flaps. ‘We go to get pictures,’ he says…

When they arrive swathed in ash, the roller coaster is folded in half, a writhing lattice of ruptured tracks, gangly as a giant insect. Hugging an arched belly of metal cars, its corroded arms are crossed already—the death pose, the smallest sister knows.  (41)

The father’s speciation of disaster is far from uninterested though, and later we will see that his desire to watch is as destructive as the spectacle itself. Hurt writes:

 The Favorite Father Chases a Tornado/ through the river with his camera. A layer of rust floating like algae on the water begins to break up. As he wades, his legs part one red island, making another. Soon there are too many tiny rust islands to count, and the river is a mottled red-brown.  (75)

The corrosion and collapse of the collection also belies a subtle violence. The city, once a capital of industry that consumed the world around it, has now in turn become oxidized and is being consumed by the air it breathes. The violence in Hurt’s collection is atmospheric and structures that once sustained have now turned against themselves to victimize what they once nurtured. Hurt writes:

Spring-Cleaning, the Quiet Mother/ discovers the habit of touching that’s begun in her kitchen. It wafts like a sulfur perfume through all of her rooms. She finds burnt sugar cubes of touching stashed under beds and salt mounds of touching collected on tabletops.  (49)

Narrating the collection is the youngest daughter, who must make a life in this dying city. Ultimately, it is her ability to move between the two meanings of decadence that allows her to survive. She sees not only the decay, but also the ways in which decay creates, the way even rust can be embroidery if looked at in the right way. Ultimately, this is what allows the smallest sister to survive—her ability to see the transformative power of decay, the way obsolesce makes something new. Hurt writes:

The City Opens/ along its river-seam like a swollen belly, expelling antiques. The smallest sister makes a list of what she finds on the banks… Every night she finds more, so she begins to build herself a home from them. Every night another wall, every week another room, every month another house—her new city birthed form the refuse.  (82)

In the interest of full disclosure, I grew up in the rust belt. I spent the first two decades of my life in Dayton, a city as notable for its lost industry as its contribution to aviation. And maybe this is why Hurt’s collection resonates so well with me. It is a eulogy for places that only become notable once they have lost themselves.



Best Thing I’ve Read This Week: No Object

22 Jan

During August of last summer, I watched a robustly pregnant Natalie Shapero read from her first book, No Object (Saturnalia Books, 2013), under strands of Christmas-tree lights hung off the fire escape of poet/artists Mel and Pete Burkeet’s  apartment. Though I know it’s not true, I remember Shapero dressed in a kind of Hugh Hefnerish get up, but with perfectly circular glasses instead of 80’s Ray-Bans. In particular, I remember her wearing a white captain’s hat with a black plastic brim. I’ve added this detail in hindsight, most likely as a result of having read No Object so many times, a book where Shapero captains more than writes her poems.

In No Object “common sense,” one liners, advice, aphorisms, literature, memory, history, hearsay, puns, slang, and imagination all collapse into each other forming a kind of sea of language for Shapero to navigate. Take “Kidding, Kidding” for example:

Ordinance says

Three coin-ops and no more.
Is this my fault? I’ve taken things too far.
Hard to believe I’ve been described as a nun

On her day off.

Listen to me.

You simply cannot change
the entire country to the metric system
by calling up a frog jump in La Jolla

and pleading

they see to print

the win in centimeters.
The frog ramp was absurdly cantilevered.

No kind of peep show parlor can survive

on fewer than

four machines.

With all the kinds of screens,
hard to believe they okayed the astronaut
who asked the tester DON’T YOU HAVE THAT INKBLOT

Perhaps an ever better metaphor than calling Shapero a captain would be to compare her to a drunk driver, careening across a dozen lanes of epistemology yet never getting injured in the accidents she causes.

The real estate these poems traverse is immense. In them, thought moves below language like in some diagram by Saussure. The two may intersect at moments but always stay separate. For instance, in one section of her long poem “HOT (NORMAL)” she writes:

I haven’t been a child in a long time.
At most, I’ve been a cat. The world has left

something on for me while it’s at work.
Cats can’t see TV. Or is it mirrors? I’ve seen a lot
of both. I’ve tacked toward shame.
I’ve read the sham obscenity

trial of Howl, publishers in holding cells,
something in the food so they couldn’t get hard.

We’re lucky, our freedom. Recall
when the condom tore. I accused you
of wishing it, trying to make me settle down.

You responded SETTLE DOWN. (54)

Reading these poems is like trailing a string through a labyrinth with no entrances or exists, like channel surfing on a TV on which each day of your life is broadcast as a separate station, like putting the newspaper through a shredder and trying to read it.

And this is what I saw the message of No Object to be. The spaces between fragments is where “we” are. Our selves are located not in language, but in its interstices. And yet, the only way to bring out those gaps is to speak. In “Implausible Travel Plans” she writes:

He said, the water down there, it’s so clear

you can’t see jellyfish. That indicates

nothing, I said, and he said, I don’t care

is the hardest line to deliver in all of acting,

as though he knew of an acting laboratory

where researchers developed hardness scales

and spattered across them devastating fragments.


I liked to rehearse my Ophelia during blackouts,

the traditional time to make the worst mistakes

and, later, soften the story. Nothing working

but the gas stove. God, I felt so bad

that time we used the crock instead of the kettle

and watched it smoke and shatter. I was the one.

I was the one who wanted stupid tea. (18)

What I see as the driving idea behind No Object is the notion that every means of reaching the self are the very same things which prevent one from doing so. What we are left with, then, is language, a body with no object.

If this sounds fatalistic, I don’t mean it to and neither does Shapero. Even if the self is unknowable, Shapero reminds us that the only thing worth kneeling for is what we don’t know. In “Stars” she writes:

[…] I didn’t know anything better, I thought execution-style was a sex position, I thought the love line was the biggest organ in the body, I though you said cock

 for one you wanted to see and dick for one you didn’t, as in he had a dick like a bad word I learned early, didn’t comprehend the meaning, and I don’t want to live so fully, aging actress who must embody herself dying again and again of unspecified illness, there are few good parts for women, count your blessings, count the while like stars now shooting

through my friend’s black hair, she says not that’s blonde, I’m a little bit blonde, souvenir from the Hun invasion if you get my drift, yes where were the stars while our elders were raping each other, they failed as watchmen and now they’ve gone, thanks a lot, Swan, thanks a lot, Southern Cross, I don’t know why it happens, but the body is a holy

war, can’t reason our way out of it, best now just to kneel. (4)

Shapero’s poems circle around an absent self. And though there is no object at the center, there is the purest kind of sublimity is walking as close to the void as you can.

Best Thing I’ve Read This Month: Young Tambling

4 Jan


I bought a copy of Kate Greenstreet’s latest, Young Tambling, after hearing her read at the excellent Paging Columbus series run by Hannah Stephenson. On the recto side of the title page is a tracing of Greenstreet’s left hand (I’m assuming). In lieu of signing the book, she traced my hand on the facing title page. The gesture is mimetic of what I see as the Greenstreet’s primary concerns in the text repetition/ doubling, tracing, and the ability/ inability of reifying events as memory.
Young Tambling is comprised of six long poems, each starting with a short prose section. The preoccupation with doubling is established in the first poem, “Narrative.” Early in the poem we get the hint of story that Greenstreet will spend the rest of the poem deconstructing. She writes:

I was outside and inside at the same time. We were all sitting at a table, in  a way, but we were also out on the street and there was a dead deer in the street. I went over to it and sat down on the curb. The deer lifted himself then, his bloody head and all, into my lap. I didn’t know what to do. He seemed to be talking to me, in a language I couldn’t understand. (12)

In this short space, there exists a kind fractal where what is conveyed in the poem echoes itself. Here there is event doubled with imagination, event doubled with the potentialities of that event, event doubled as memory, event doubled as language, etc… My use of words like “doubling” and “repetition” are a bit ham-fisted however. While Greenstreet is interested in the way experience can multiply seemingly indefinitely, she is also interested in how these doubles are never identical to the original. There is always a kind of parallax shift in repetition. This malignancy, however, continues without our volition until any notion of the original event becomes indistinguishable from its distorted echoes.  Later in the same poem she writes:

The picture should be looked at. In the dream it’s you and me and a lot of other people. We’re performing a long and complicated vocal piece and I love you in the dream.

I think it lasts about…twenty minutes. Then they have to use the hack saws. to get it off. Can we recognize a pattern?

You seemed to need me but—when you put those big hooves in my lap? How can I recognize the real thing? Sometimes the tiniest breeze will set it off. People don’t get over it. Women, never. This is the devil’s work, this mirror. (26)

In “Narrative” we see the speaker’s growing inability to distinguish between memory and dream and between both of them and language.

Another theme of Young Tambling is traces or impressions. We see this most explicitly in the second poem, “Act.” “Act,” is divided into seven “Plates” as Greenstreet calls them. The trope works well for the section. Plate signifies something which will transfer via contact, leaving a trace. We see this well in “Plate 3: Clumps of Earth, Like Starfish on a Beach” (n.b.—for the sake of brevity I’ve altered some of Greenstreet’s original spacing):

No ties, no great need.

But, as a life can be shaped by rumor, often there’s a brother.

Who went away, who is told now: stay out of it.

This was the case that night. I knew the door he meant.

Help me get out of here. And we’ll go back to being ourselves.

He turns off the music.

As if it were music

in the room.

I don’t remember.

Who I was waiting for.

I think my parents should’ve spoken to each other more

openly, but it’s hard to do.

People devote their lives—the start on a course…

Now that I’m here, I could be anyone.

I don’t remember what I was wearing.

I was always driving someone somewhere. (52-53)

As we can see, this transfer is imperfect. Something transferred via impression, like experience is transferred into memory, will never be perfect. It will always be characterized by its anomalies and omissions. Later, in “Memory,” Greenstreet writes:

I shook hands with the men.

I’m disappearing.


in me

is disappearing.

So. Is that a yes?

Some of us have taken off our wigs.

The immense, the colossal weight

of our hope […] (79)

Perhaps what is most important characteristic about memory is not what it retains, but rather what has been lost in transfer. Perhaps the creation of self isn’t an inscription, but rather an erasure.

Like Lyn Hejinian’s My Life, Young Tambling is less an autobiography of the author and more an ontological exploration of biography (this is not much of an insight on my part—Greenstreet closes the text with a handwritten note that ends with the phrase “not biography but ABOUT biography.”) A good way to think of the text comes in a stanza from “Forbidden”: “A piece of thinking.//And this is where she hears herself” (119). Greenstreet is interested in the act of memory, in memory as a process of making significance, a process of interpretation.

Interspersed throughout Young Tambling are a series of black and white paintings by Greenstreet (or at least they are reproduced in the book as black and white). They look slurred, not blurry, but asymmetrical, perhaps decayed—like old film left too long in a basement. The paintings are often composed of amorphous shapes, almost like a Rorschach blot, but sharper edged. If I had to distill Young Tambling down to one statement it would be this—memory is not a photograph, but rather a Rorschach test.

Single-Sentence Review: The Youngest Butcher in Illinois

19 Dec

The Youngest Butcher in Illinois
Robert Ostrom
Yes Yes Books

Poetry that moves forward by the ellipsis of its lines; this book doesn’t end so much as walk through the void it opens.

Best Thing I’ve Read This Month: Noah Falck

30 Sep

“Habitualization devours works, clothes, furniture, one’s wife, and the fear of war” wrote Russian critic Victor Shklovsky. In order to prevent this, he asks artists “to increase the difficulty and length of perception.” For Shklovsky, defamiliarization is essential because “art exists that one may recover the sensation of life.” Maybe this explains how Noah Falck’s debut collection, Snowmen Losing Weight, can be simultaneously so surreal and so deeply corporeal.

Falck’s poems return the world its strangeness. Even seemingly straightforward descriptions feel weirdly askew. For example, in the poem “Interval between Beating Pulse and Sunrise” Falck writes:

Lastly, the insects grind a kind of static into the night. Lastly, the hair on your back is shaping up to be another Massachusetts. A toy in a cereal box. You’ve lived to tell about it with clean hands. I am all of a sudden. Or the tongue in the mouth saying, the last time was a lake reflection, a windshield wiper held in place by ice.  (44)

There’s a kind of significance created by simplicity in Snowmen. Instead of eliminating ambiguity, Falck’s laconic descriptions somehow make his poems more elliptical. Further, through Falck’s surreal reportage, he creates a kind of unity in tone that troubles the idea of significance. An example is “Inside the Inside Joke.” Falck begins the poem with these lines, “I keep seeing people/ who look exactly like you// and the clouds keep/ running into all the buildings.// I have to think for a minute/ or two” (32). In Falck’s poems, all events are made equal, so the significant and the quotidian collapse into each other, and such distinctions are proven imaginary. This can lead to a sense of arbitrariness, which is heightened by the “crossword” poems that punctuate Snowmen….  The poems, titled things like “5. Across” or “19. Down,” posit an America that is continually expanding out into space. For instance, in “13. Across” Falck writes:

The conversation ends with a sigh.
Enough is enough.

The emptiness of a white room
passes time like solitaire.

Nothing will ever be as it once was,
when we listened to music backwards
and dreamed of making love to the police.

Tonight, the television plugs the World Series—
the elevator is cluttered with cancer patient footprints

and on the fourth floor, grandpa is plugged with pins
on his deathbed. (36)

The evenness of Flack’s language delineates a country where everything is happening at once and simultaneity is a kind of meaning.

Also striking about Snowmen… are the poems that capture the choreography of our lives. For example, in “From a Desk” Falck writes, “Once upon/ a time in a crowded locker room twenty-/ two women waxed lips in unison” (4). These poems could almost be scenes in a musical. In “13. Down” Falck writes:

The night studied our bodies
with its callused hands.
We leaned like kitchen knives
and watched the waitress
two-step around decaffeinated beverages.
Between blinks there was a constant shift,
time kept killing itself in tiny circles.  (7)

In these poems, serendipity is created through simultaneity. In “18. Down,” Falck writes:

The moon marks the rooftops with silver […]
Across town, a radio emits a mess
of static from a fire escape where a woman
takes off her coat like a superhero […]
There’s a black cat with scholarly eyes, parading,
and hiccups channeling from the New Moon Saloon,
where two friends swallow bourbon in unison,
oblivious to the fact that they are sleeping
with the same beautiful woman. (9)

The continual coincidence of the random in Snowmen… is what gives the book cohesion. There’s an omniscience to Snowmen…, but not in any metaphysical sense. These poems’ only transcendence is estrangement, the way they are able to show us our lives as a performance we’ve forgotten we’re in. This omniscient perspective doesn’t mean there’s no “I” in Snowmen… however. Someone has to be there to hold the camcorder, and this I is present as more than just a type of attention. In “The Last Time I Ate a Hamburger It Was Raining,” Falck writes:

The light of the day had given up and fallen behind
the tallest buildings I had ever seen—somewhere
between 24th & 35th, though it could have been between
Liberty & Church. Regardless, you were there with me […]
I rubbed my belly first before pulling your wet
body onto mine, the people around us were the fungal shapes
of a dream, they were the silhouettes of silhouettes
melting into the afternoon and I think I was in love. (11)

Falck is very much in these poems, both as the person seeing and the person seen.

The estrangement in Snowmen.. isn’t mutually exclusive with intimacy. “You” is the most common pronoun in book. Falck is not talking to the abstract reader; he is talking to you, and particularly affecting is the closeness he can create while keeping the reader a stranger. In “Staring Contest,” Falck writes:

In your eyes, a traffic light, a backyard of paperbacks, a Home Depot. In your eyes recycle bins fill with history books, a collection of lightening rods from 1989 […] In your eyes, marching bands. In your eyes the clapping of several simultaneous first kisses in the shade of a Mexican sitcom […] (51)

The need to address this “you” is the engine of Snowmen… If we can lose ourselves in familiarity, we can lose ourselves in strangeness too, and Falck’s speakers find ways of inhabiting what can be, at times, a profoundly alienating life. For example, in “In a Room Doubling as a Hallway,” Falck writes:

I whisper to you a pillow away
that the President is being taken care

of, and then our unscripted dreams
struggling, black hungry

failures of hope, unbuttoned episodes
with the architecture of blindfolded men […]

where the wind is a wingless insect muscling a serenade […]

where our old lovers marry,

breast-feed, and mow crooked lines behind white picket fences […]  (23)

This intimacy is only underscored by the fact that each copy of Snowmen… is handmade and unfolds like a Jacob’s ladder, and this says something about the contract Snowmen… makes with its reader. Snowmen…, however, is also intimate in the other sense of the word as well. Falck’s poetry can be sensual, but manages to do so without feeling cloying or fetishistic.  In “Cincinnati,” Falck writes:

Drink a bottle of Tequila in the dining room. Expand internally. She’ll leave lipstick on the scruffy portion of your check […] Undress her slowly in a room fumbling with public television light where the shadows crowd the curtains; carve a thick mutilated forest on the walls. When morning comes […] [l]et the songs happen. Let the sun slip across the room to paint her lips a water-color orange. (48)

Surrealism then, for Falck, becomes a way of approaching the world, a way of touching it again, like it was still new.

Noah Falck’s world is both the world I live in, and the world I wished I lived in. And maybe, that’s what’s most beautiful about the text, that it brings those two a little closer together while still recognizing the essential difference between them.