24 February 2009

Rohrer, Matthew. They All Seemed Asleep. Brooklyn, N.Y./Portland, Ore.: Octopus Books, 2008.

I picked this up at AWP after selling a handful of copies to kind people. What happened was this: Mathias Svalina, one of the editors at Octopus Books, was talking to someone about Matthew Rohrer, and like I thought it was some other full-length book he'd published elsewhere (this one's a chapbook), and Mathias was all, "It's an action-adventure story about a homosexual uprising and some shadowy militant figure named The Cat." And I thought what a cool book that would be to read, but if it's a whole book of poems I don't know if I'd enjoy it. Not because I don't like poems but because I have really foolish simplistic needs when it comes to narrative, and sussing out a plot arc amid 50-60 poems would be maybe too taxing for me. Or if not taxing than at least I'd know throughout my process of reading the book that I'd be missing something, deliberately missing something, in the pursuit of something less central to the book's aims.

Well, it turns out Mathias wasn't talking about another book, but this one, and that this book isn't a collection of poems, but one long one. So I grabbed a copy and read it on the plane home and it's awesome. There's a great physical landscape of coasts and cities where the action is set, and though the book is written in loose verse the reader's engaged in exactly the same way she would be were it something Hollywood might option. It's kind of weird how this works. Here's a random sample, from page 3:

in torchlight, so I headed
up the street and joined the crowd
they cheered as a man was raised
awkward, impaled on a pole
which swayed as they tried to hold
it up, so his arms were flung
like a puppet's, and shadows
made his face seem to flicker
everyone around me cheered
and spilled their drinks     I backed out

People talk a lot about fiction for poets. Ben Marcus is sort of all poets' favorite fiction writer, isn't he? And here I can argue we have poetry for novelists. It's not just the fact of its being narrative poetry. I think something that's also awesome in the act of reading Rohrer's book is the continuous tension between the poetic line and the prosaic sentence. This isn't a revolutionary idea. Like probably all poets play with this tension. But look above and check out how the lack of punctuation and capitalization isn't just "being experimental" but actually works to control (and sometimes especially disallow such control over) your reading pace.

I won't ruin the end for you, but that even a poetry book has a ruinable end is awesome, I think. Who, experts, are the other good poets for fiction writers? Who are the Marcus converses?

Go buy it.


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