Bük Kloob is a series of book reviews loosely related to a book club I started.
Poetry is complicated. Love or hate the form, poetry is not something that one falls into easily. There is a lot of work involved for readers to “get it”: it is an intentionally puzzling medium, every entry being a riddle.
That was the experience of reading two very different poetry books at the same time. One was traditionally bonkers—Float by Anne Carson—while the other was a new school attempt at redefining a genre, Fantasy by Ben Fama. Both are the type of books that non-readers would laugh at, spitting in giggles at the thought of “reading poetry.”
But there is something to these books: they challenge and they confuse, wrapping a wit around themes related to the human experience. They just do it in very few words and that is consequently maddening.
Carson does this very easily with Float. The book is a collection of chapbooks filled with assorted works amassed throughout the years that are intended to “float” through your hands. Some confuse, some tickle, and some are about classical works. Carson seems to invent and reinvent the genre as she goes, presenting many opportunities for readers to question if what you are reading is or isn’t poetry. As she has said, the work is all about randomness and questioning what words can be.
That is where the joy of Float is found: it’s a book that seeks to answer where a writer of any sort can land oneself after millennium of words being written. How do we all not suffocate ourselves under the weight of countless texts and orations? How do we find newness in a format that is as old as talking? She accomplishes this by keeping her words untethered. She reenforces this by writing and rewriting poems, stories, essays, and more in attempt to find the “best version” of what she is writing. Whether she is relaying a tearful conversation over the phone or musing over the idea of cliché as it relates to Joan Of Arc or unwinding the idea of making money as an artist, you’re there with her, confused but nodding your head. You are with her even though you might not understand.
Taking a distinctly separate, traditional-yet-new route is Fama’s Fantasy. This book is as infuriating as it is special. Infuriating? Because it reminds you of how disgusting young Americans are today. Special? Because it reminds you of how disgusting young Americans are today. The book is very easy to see as stereotypically “poetry”: it is the type of text that you share with a person only to receive laughs at.
The majority of the text meanders around Fama attempting to place himself in the ground as to not fly away in a balloon of insecurity. It is personal work and you feel like you are next to him, reading the book over his shoulder as a text message. Fantasy is loaded with popular culture references—Dev Hynes, Moët Chandon, Rodarte, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, goths, Grindr, Siri, etc.—that weigh the book in material. You feel an entire culture crash into you, for better or worse. There is an attempted elegance that is lovely in theory but quickly awash by a need to make the common moments in contemporary culture (Sending an email, flirting online, drinking too much alcohol, etc.) seem both twee and ironic. This would be special in 2007. It is now tired.
And perhaps that is the point, this collection of words depicting a young same sex man-ish person with bicoastal tendencies. Perhaps it is to infuriate. Perhaps it is to invert that with which Carson has spent decades building for herself. It is all an act of make believe reality.
Regardless, Float and Fantasy make for playful foils for each other. Float takes herself semi-seriously, giggling about Zeus and pronouns, while Fantasy glowers in a corner, face aglow from a screen, thinking about cocaine and Nicole Richie. Both are maddening. Both are wonderful. One lands the thought more than the other but, alas, such is the nature of poetry: to confuse, to cripple, to continue.