5 ½” x 8 ½” handmade chapbook
First impression of 100
Verve Bath Press
Review originally published on 8/15/09
To start this right off, let’s talk about product: Oh my gosh, the ladies of Verve Bath Press make the most darling of all handmade journals, chaps, zines, and art projects, and this is no exception. This delicate book has a recycled laid brown kraft paper cover, the consistency of a paper grocery bag, with silkscreened or screen-printed words, and an actual paper doily clasped with pewter brads around the book’s binding and cover. Holy cute as beans. I must confess, the dainty, beautiful handmade look of this book forced me, out of pure respect for perfect art, to purchase this book.
But the poems are what truly stole my heart. This book is awesome, and I cannot put it in words as dainty as the cover, but this is so worth every penny and moment spent on it. The poems are as they say they are: love poems for JNB, referred to mostly as “you” or “he” in extremely personal writing ripping apart and stitching back together the imperfect-yet-flawless seams of an esoteric relationship.
Some of the poems are tiny stories, easy to follow and visualize, and others are a mish-mash of quick thoughts strewn together, one after another, falling out like crazy drool, tumbling around like windblown leaves at the onslaught of a hurricane, abstract and punchy, tough to follow in an arc, throwing visual after visual at you while you swing at them all.
The author throws punctuation out the window, ending obvious questions and sentence fragments of who’s or what’s with periods, but once you get past the stopping and starting, stalling and running-full-force nature of the rhythm (and the fact that the writer seems to have an obsession with the bathroom?), the book lets loose into so many good lines that I couldn’t possibly list them all. If ever there were a poet to rip off, Ms. Bell is it, with her sexy and sexual words that test the waters of love, dwelling on confusions of marriage, compromises, outsider views of do’s and don’ts, from a voice that seems to be quite young, diving into a big love for the first time and growing throughout the words of a love that could also be the last one. The poem, “The Reason You Are Not A Poet,” could just say it all, with its immense details of even the most minute moment:
He’s yelling from the bathroom.
You move close to the door to hear.
I love your hair in my shower. I love your hair in my shower.
You exhale and realize
he will never be a poet, but you love
the way he called your eyes kettle drums one night,
for lack of anything else to say. The way he carved your
names into his kitchen table, misses his shotgun, could be
an advertisement for Ray-ban sunglasses. The way his graying hair
reminds you of Kafka, that he leaves kayaks in your
living room to dry. The way he says good morning
and good night and aches for you. He half nelsons
you into his arms, you laugh, you laugh,
and tonight you lean your head against
the bathroom door and you know
he will never be a poet,
but he’s got better things to say,
more love to generate
than Neruda ever did.
He will never be a poet,
but that is what you are here for. To let everyone know
his eyelids look like blades of grass when he sleeps,
his arms are branches, his roots
I think the only negative I have for this book — other than the British spelling of acknowledgments, which still drives me nuts — is that the margins are slightly wacky, with poems squeezed in to fit onto a single page, margins be damned. There are some stanzas that could have and probably should have gone on to the next page, even a couple of stanzas split up with just one line hanging on the next page where there was plenty of room to move the entire paragraph. I always seem to notice that dangling line like a sore thumb. I would much rather have liked seeing either a smaller font if the poems each needed to be on a single page, or the poems given a slight bit more breathing space with some consistent margins and maybe a necessary extra page or two added to the book to accommodate. Very small price to pay for handmade goodness, though. And you must buy this, margins be damned!
I want to leave you with a couple lines I particularly like and the final note to, really, just get this book. Verve Bath Press makes a beautiful product, and the words stand on their own, definitely. Some of the best, most honest and sincere work I have read so far this year. And now, a couple of my favorite lines:
From “Instead Of ‘I Love You’”:
[ … ]
Putting your shoes in the shoeboxes, pretending they
are new. Putting your hats in the hatboxes, your voice
in its voicebox. Pretending they are new.
[ … ].
From “The Last Three Poems Left After The World Disappeared”:
[ … ] But prayers
make no difference, says
the priest, when you send
them in the wrong direction.
[ … ].
From “Small Tits” (and yes, I laughed right out loud):
Hello Small Tits. Thank you for not growing
beyond the size of trick candles. I put you in
these big padded bras, sigh,
strap you in for a ride. [ … ].
From “Woman Considers Killing Love With A Hatchet”:
[ … ] For men, love
means the soldiers have entered
your mother’s house and you can
hear her scream. [ … ].
Enough said. Buy the book. I believe there is now also a PDF version available.