Sunday, April 4, 2010

Elisa Gabbert's The French Exit

So, the blog world has been telling me about this new press, Birds LLC, and this new book, The French Exit by Elisa Gabbert. And I’ve been thinking, I should buy this book. And then I walk into my office, and what is sitting on my desk? Review copy! This was very exciting for me. I am not usually important enough to get review copies of anything. And to be fair, I think it was actually in Phoebe’s mail. Fortunately the poetry editor over at Phoebe is my roommate and friend, Moriah Purdy. She will probably forgive me for swiping it.

Gabbert has done some pretty fun stuff as a guest over at HTMLGiant, like this amazing list of “moves” in contemporary poetry and a recent bar graph of personal clichés in reviews, blogs and books, and I’ve seen parts of her collaborative work with Kathleen Rooney before, so I was really interested to read the book. And the title is sexy. “Exit” is such a cool word.

So, I had to look up what the phrase “French exit” actually means, and it refers to when someone leaves a place stealthily, without saying goodbye. It seems to be used in the context of social events/parties. . . when someone sneaks away and is gone when you turn around to look for them. What’s satisfying about this is that so much of Gabbert’s book deals with dream-like experiences and fears. This is what dreams so often do, sneak away before you’re done with them, leaving you feeling powerless, afraid of your own impotence. There are a few moments in the book where she really nabs my most common, terrifying dream experience—feeling in some way paralyzed. In the first poem, “Commissioned,” she writes:

You find a notebook, the first several pages

filled in with your own writing, red pen.

You must know what it says.

But in the dream you can’t read it.

In dreams there’s no quality to the weather.

But an orange sky, hanging. Something it means.

Your own writing in red! Urgent and intimate but you can’t access it! I have recurring dreams where I’m being attacked up against the fence in the front yard of the home I lived in growing up, and people are very close by who could save me, but I CAN’T SCREAM. I HAVE NO VOICE. TERRIFYING.

She ends “Decoherence,” “I keep thinking about a woman I met. / One day, approaching an intersection, / she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to stop walking.” This reminds me of a common dream I have where I’m walking down a busy road w/o sidewalks. There’s plenty of room on the shoulder of the road for me to walk, BUT I CAN’T WALK STRAIGHT. I keep veering into traffic. I can’t stay out of the road. I have no control over my body. I know I’m going to get hit by a car. Please email with psychoanalysis.

Anyway, so much of desire (our dreams) is also fear, and Gabbert complicates desire and anxiety. This was a refreshing take on human want. And yet the language comes off as poet-casual. She makes the meta-poetic conversational (throughout the book, but the second section, in particular, is comprised completely of “Blogpoems” she wrote for a project on Chris Tonelli’s blog), isn’t afraid of puns, and has some really playful conceits (“Where do holes go / to die? Their cemetery / sure would seem a waste / of space—all those graves / of graves. . . “).

So, there are a million off-site events I want to see at AWP, and Gabbert is reading at one of them. It’s Thursday night at Mercury Café, and it’s hosted by six small presses, including Birds, LLC. There are a bunch of other readers, too, so if you’re interested, check it out on the AWP site.


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