PICK OF THE WEEK: Sarah Wisby
“Lately my life is like a novel I’m having trouble getting through,” begins Sarah Wisby in her new piece “My Life the Novel: The Reviews Are In.” “The protagonist is unlikable; it’s hard to care what happens to her. There’s no plot to speak of—only dull ministrations of daily chores and occasional flashes from her dreams—mostly sex with co-workers.”
Consistently humorous and pithy, “My Life the Novel” is at once a mini-guide to craft and a clever demonstration of the dialog between one’s current life and one’s story. Last year Wisby’s book Viva Loss was published by Small Desk Press and distributed by Small Press Distribution, but the effects it has had—without what is traditionally called major press (although you can read honest yet swooning reviews from two poets you’ve more than just heard of, Paul Corman-Roberts and M.K. Chavez)—have been anything but small. I will only say one sentence about it: Viva Loss is the only book I purchased last year and it isn’t because I only read one book (trust me). I lied, here’s a second: the book is like a three-way marriage between economy, poetry, and insight; you just keep winning. The book has established Wisby as a local champion of the page and has accordingly changed the trajectory of her life. Naturally, this has changed the way she looks at the world. Right?
“My Life the Novel” captures this unique moment in which its author has really blossomed into a poet almost as though by accident and looks ahead to a life as one, professionally, commenting not only on her new life but on her new ways of telling it. Don’t let the humor fool you: this is an honesty that reflects a strong desire—and personal commitment—to stay at her desk, even if the new life threatens to be less than fulfilling:
It might make a better movie than a book, my life, because even though the protagonist is depressed and pathetic, she encounters a lot of really cool things. Like accordion players in the BART station, and all that light blue paint someone spilled on a metal door on the sidewalk. In a movie, all shots being equal, we would see and remember those things, whereas in a book she barely notices them but instead worries about her teeth.
She trudges through her own self-analysis with a finely-honed syntax that eventually takes her where she wants to go:
And then, finally, she says something that interests me. She says, “Loss bores a hole that is larger than what has been lost. That’s why you can’t just replace a person or an animal—the replacement rattles around in all that empty space.”
It’s not like I didn’t know this already, or like she put it better than anyone ever has before, but I don’t know, it took all that wading through blahness to arrive at a place where I could actually feel what she felt, the futility and the grief and the rattling discontent. Of course it’s a cheap trick on the author’s part, throwing a dead dog like that into our laps to force out a little empathy, when really it’s been two years and the protagonist should be over it by now.
Nothing about this is “cheap trick,” but the proof is in the pages. Watch them.
This video also includes “Vetiver,” which is “actually a poem poem, which I don’t write very often, and I almost feel like it came from someplace else.” The poem poem includes these lines:
It seemed to me then that madness was the only way anyone ever got what they wanted from life. To be crazy enough to ask for it. I’d been there, briefly, but it was a chemical overdose that steered me to the ecstatic realm, not my naked brain speed-dialing its own number over and over until God answered. Hello? Hello? … Hello?
Also, I am in love with this sentence: “The next day she took a cab to the hospital, and I got back my fox-fur coat but could not wear it.” But maybe you’d like the context.
This is not that context. This is from the poem “The Art of Losing:”
As for winning, it’s a losing game. For some time now humans have outlived our practicality and must find other reasons to continue on. Grooming our sleek fetishes, learning from the tufted animals how to turn in tighter and tighter circles each day, and bumping up against each other in the form of rock, paper, scissors. If you’ve still got the heart for it, it’s a good excuse to touch each other’s hands.
If you haven’t heard “Bodies at Rest” yet, I’m proud to say you can watch it from the top of this clip. And she ended, appropriately, with “The Myth of the Buried Tether:”
Under each moment, a buried tether. After several attempts to cut the tether with words or burn through it with sex, I grasp it with both hands and pull. If metaphor ever fulfills its cool promise, some day I’ll yank its roots into light. Or else get a sharper language. Between knowing and not knowing I take long breaks, ride escalators and trains, anything moving. Failing again, I plug into motion, try to ride this bucking world …
This coming week » Last week’s pick of the week M.G. Martin will be making his Rumpus debut tomorrow night. You don’t want to miss it. Also, on Friday one of my favorite poets, Sam Sax, will be part of the Literary Death Match. If you see these two performances this week no one will have any $hit on you. And if you get this in time, you might want to head to Eros Center for Safe Sex tonight. K’vetsh turns 14 years old!