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    Making Up the Words As We Go Along: Three New Poems

    Written by

    Blake Butler

    Coconut Books is the print arm of the longest-running online poetry publisher I can think of. In the past several months they’ve released a slew of wicked new books. Here are my thoughts on three of them, along with an excerpt from each.

     

     

    Science by Emily Toder

    The voice carried throughout Emily Toder’s Science is oddly hypnotic. It is both factual and quasi-brain-damaged at the same time, kind of like a guided tour to our common objects and emotions from a future where the moon has been revealed as two-dimensional. The book is comprised of three sections. The first gathers what seems to be a strange array of essays on water, Arabic numerals, common weather, and fear of death; the second is a kind of catalog of interactions with a series of shapes that seem to be taking over the world’s landscape, because they can; and the third is like a series of aftershocks, somehow calm in a post-traumatic sort of mode. Toder’s lines are astounding in the way they can begin to seem one way and then fall in, or turn up, or take off their mask, only to reveal another form of soft, fucked numinous land beneath. Like a glitched-up video game full of objects that might bite you, and one you can hear as well as read. Science is exciting and shivery, a textbook they’ll have in classrooms once the machines take our faces over.

    A poem from Science:

    “On Sequins”

    Sequins are mites of goodness lacking in the eyes.
    I personally have no experience with sequins.
    The history of sequins is that they were invented
    in 6th century Arabia for good reason.
    The etymology of sequins lies in the Arabic sikka
    meaning coin or die.
    In the 13th century the local public mint
    of the Republic of Venice was called la Zecca
    and produced 3.5 gram gold coins called zecchino.
    Repeating this word excessively they founded
    what we know today as the sequin.
    Today we know the sequin is made of traditional
    and nontraditional materials both.
    Traditionally sequins were chisels of foil.
    Nontraditionally they are the postconsumer
    plastic eyes of small mammals.
    That is nearly all we know about them.
    And that they were hot in the Reagan years.
    I have seen a sequin melt
    although that is a separate meaning
    I realize. I have seen a separated
    sequin I realize. Sequins are little
    entrepreneurs but globilzation
    has been hard on them.
    There have been rumors they are made
    with gelatin which is hard to pull off
    in a globalized world. I would suggest
    sequins are not generally well looked upon
    in fact. They are hardly ever gazed at
    because it is uncomfortable
    and unnecessary. No one goes out
    looking for them. No one
    has taken out a patent on them.
    Compare this with Tofurky.
    I have heard it said the sequin cheapens.
    It has been told to children.
    Children must be told some things.
    Children must be dressed slowly.
    They must form a peer group.
    I used to be a sequin. Now I am like a bead.
    I don’t want to talk about it.
    We were flung from the hips
    and now we are confetti.
    The history of confetti is much simpler.
    Confetti first arose in Paris
    in 1891 and was made out of casino parts.
    The etymology of confetti is confection.
    Today confetti is nontoxic.
    I wish confetti was my real name.
    My real name reveals very much about me.
    Richard.

    ---

    of the mismatched teacups, of the single-serving spoon: a book of failures by Jenny Boully

    Known primarily for her form-bending non-fiction assemblages, this is Jenny Boully’s first foray into a more directly poetic form, or, as she calls them, “poetic failures.” The book, then, is a kind of gathering of fragments, bits of essays and remembrances and digressions stacked into verse objects often mixing their imagery as much as form. Classical surrealist tones of eggs and trees and bugs and instruments are bent up against eating mushrooms, mathematical analyses of love, awkward lust, and secondhand racks of knives. There are so many modes here one begins to get the sense of witnessing the underbelly of a brain, wading knee-deep through the pour off of years of ideas and experiences collaged into a single body, almost an encyclopedia of one person’s wants and considerations splayed for anyone to eat. 

    A poem from of the mismatched teacups, of the single-serving spoon: a book of failures:

    “THIS IS WHERE THE GUITAR COMES IN:

    I am sick and lonely. A’s guitar is there and I can’t paint anything and so I want to make songs. I know no chords, but I can strum and have it sound almost like music. Beth comes over. She’s a sex pot and I know she and A are still fucking but I pretend not to know. She wants me to kiss her. No, I say, I don’t want to do that anymore. I play her my song. She sings, making up the words as we go along: Somebody stole the kitchen and Boully’s oh-so-mad; she’s about to lose it, the past and what she had; the bathroom is moldy, the knives are dull; she waits for the milk to curdle; the firecracker wind blows the kitchen to its knees . . . Those are the parts I remember her singing about me and how I could have but I didn’t kiss her. She shows me that her bra and panties are leopard print. I have almost no pubic hair, she says and lays on my futon.

    When A. comes home, Beth and I play our song and he loves it. Beth and I go around everywhere and play our song and everyone loves it. I tell A. one night when he is sad and dreamy. I tell him, Beth and I go around everywhere and play our song and everyone loves it. He stares at me like a parent. You are imagining, he says, you are imagining this and everything to be the way you want it to be, the way you will want it to be when you write about it years from now.

    ---

    Hold It Down by Gina Myers

    There’s something both very down-to-Earth and brutalist about Gina Myers’s Hold It Down. It reflects a world without fantasy beyond hope, where nosebleeds and cops are as real and sidelong as they are in actuality. Marks on the body, alcohol, and honestly loving where you live are ways to fight the unrelenting thought of where your ashes will end up. Myers’ voice is straight-faced, unassuming, constantly pressing forward. These poems forgo the frills and hopes for consolation and just walk on seemingly ready at any minute to get shot like anybody else, enjoying the music in the meantime. Since reading it I’ve found myself, for the first time in my life, using the phrase hold it down inside my head instead of freaking out at bullshit, which is a pretty nice gift.

    A poem from Hold It Down:

    “Twenty-Seven: An Inventory”

    915 gnats build a nest in my ankle.
    A single fan. A mattress on the floor.
    At least 2 mice seen. Another key to hang
    from my belt. 19 keys mean
    I can enter 5 mailboxes, 7 apartments,
    2 offices & 2 elevators. I keep 3 keys
    of unknown origins & currently 9 bruises
    of unknown origins: 4 on my right leg,
    1 on my right hip-bone, 2 on my left arm,
    1 on my right elbow & 1 on my left knee.
    3 small cuts on my right hand.
    I have 5 hours to myself today.
    Someone else’s curtains hang in my windows.
    The box on the floor is my box.
    In my dreams there is always 1 white rat
    with red eyes. It’s bitten me 3 nights in a row.
    I have 1 mom, 1 dad, & 1 brother.
    It’s been 373 days since I saw them,
    except my brother: 1,089 days.
    3 months of stoicism lost
    in a single night’s collapse.
    The mistakes more than I can count.
    The imagined gunshots out my window
    really just the rattling of my box fan.
    But the dogs barking & voices yelling are real.

    Previously by Blake Butler - One Hundred Literary Rumors

    @blakebutler

    This story originally appeared on VICE.

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