LETTERS FROM ROBOTS: words between bites of raisin bran
i am a movie monster
and i love you so much
i know your fears
and will not capitalize on them
She might be a movie monster, but Diana Salier’s speaker in Letters From Robots is definitely no robot. She’s sweet, honest, engaging. She narrates the daily life of the young, semi-broke, and perpetually broken-hearted. It’s a life where each breakup could very literally be the end of the world.
Letters From Robots paints a familiar picture of life in your mid-twenties, without the familiar world-weariness that so often comes from writing young-and-jaded in a big city. Maybe this is because Salier always teeters on the brink of jaded, without ever going over the edge. Page one already promises:
i’ve never written a poem
about a girl i loved
while i still loved her
but the distance doesn’t last, and there are always more girls to love.
The speaker is self-deprecating, and read-again, LOL-in-all-caps funny, but you never get a sense these things are done for the attention. This isn’t someone who says things for the irony; this is more like that friend who sits on your couch and says completely heartbreaking things in a way that makes you cry-laugh. She has a heart for the world she moves through. If I’m to believe these poems are letters from robots, they must be love letters sent to pacify us at the end of the world.
And rest assured, these are definitely love letters:
i look at every girl who walks/
drives/saunters/stumbles drunkenly by
as if puck has just squeezed
that love juice elixir shit
on my eyelids
These poems dedicate themselves to the love of women passing through the speaker’s brain-buzzed days, reading like jumbled diary entries with the simple, everyday grammar and brief lines favored by the young and hip right now. It’s a story that’s been told many times before – the stumble from day to day and breakup to breakup. A few poems, particularly the shorter ones, rely on the speaker’s voice to carry them through to the end. After a number of pages, they begin to tire out.
But just when you think your mind might start to wander, Salier reroutes your attention again, as if she’s sharing in this artificially, technologically shortened attention span. It’s a brief book, a nice, lightweight, carry-around book – so maybe.
As you move through the book, poems seem to fly at you in thought-chunks. The apocalypse is coming, and I love you. Now I am an astronaut, and I love you. I’m kind of lonely and I love you so much. These informal groupings flow into each other with an easy rhythm. If a thought lingers too long, trust that soon a new thought, something equally, but differently playful, equally longing, will appear soon.
Then suddenly, right there in the middle, we interrupt this message for a memorial to a lost friend. It’s abrupt, strange, displacing, existentially terrifying in what seemed like a simple, wonky love arc. But it fits. It’s a love elegy:
and i’m remembering this drunken dance
on your girlfriend’s birthday
three years ago in lower manhattan
The longer poems like this are what make this book so rewarding. Salier does best when she gives herself space to cover the full spectrum of what she wants to say, without reducing the complex emotionality of the moment down to a single joke or pop culture reference – if she can take that element and work it into this shimmering, pervasive nostalgia, the poem shines. Because Salier knows how to write a funny line. She’ll make you laugh until you snort at a line that breaks your heart.
Letters From Robots is one of those books you’ll read again, in the face of its instabilities. Even when it verges on letdown, it works, because you’ve become so intimate with the speaker it’s difficult not to imagine Salier eating Raisin Bran in your living room at the edge of the apocalypse, speaking these words between bites.
- Check out Diana on The Writer’s Block
- Watch Charlie Jane Anders introduce Diana
- Watch readings from her release party
- Watch Diana read as part of Writing Without Walls
- This is funny