Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Microreview: On "Nocturnal Omissions" by Gavin Geoffrey Dillard and Eric Norris
There's something inherently weak in a critic who refers to something as a "guilty pleasure." You can't help but imagine what pressures are weighing on them to feel they have to qualify their liking in such a guarded way. With Nocturnal Omissions: A Tale of Two Poets, Eric Norris and one-time porn star Gavin Geoffrey Dillard, have written a pseudo-autobiographical epistolary novel-in-verse comprised of frenetic, bawdy emails written during a two month period. Why feel guilty liking it?
The book begins with the poem "La Fin de Temps" in which Dillard boldly declares his intentions: "I want to supplant your blood with my sperm and/plant a garden of teeth upon island and crest." The next page features a response poem by Norris called "The Day of the Apocalypse." Here's a sample: "I creep forward like the Earl of Gloucester in King Lear, smelling my way to Dover.". And then Galvin's reply appears as the next poem "Petit Dejeuner au Lit." One of the lines asks "...will a hot stream of piss be mine and a fleshy scone of rubicund jam?"
Nocturnal Omissions might be one of the more intriguing books of 2011. Not quite camp, not quite comedy, it feels (sort of) like an extended in-joke-- except one that you do weirdly want to part of. Sometimes the experience is like watching a really amazing high-school variety show; it's sloppy, and you spend a lot of time simply admiring their gusto, waitng for them to stumble into the next fun bit. Sometimes it can take a bit too long to come, but you know it will. This book is even as overlong as most of those shows-- as it should be-- part of the fun is their refusal, conscious or not, to conform through compression. They feel entitled to their space and their excess, the thought of acquiescing to someone else's rules doesn't even seem to occur to them. It's 165 pages, and you get the sense they wouldn't mind if you didn't go straight from beginning to end. Go ahead and wander around. Do what you want.
The pronouncements of love and lust ("But you, precious halfling, when you grin and dance before me, even the possums mumble how tasty you might be in a pie or stew") makes the humor endearing in an uncommon way. You get the sense they're writing parody, or self-parody, or something reminiscent of an idea of parody, but you're not quite sure. The call-and-response poems document the minutiae of gay life ("I wore a wife-beater out in public today, for the first time in some years--the diet has worked"), possibly sincere philosophy ("Love is a misnomer, for it implies duality, purports two disparate parts intertwined"), and critiques of well-known contemporary poets ("I do like dogs. I detest Mark Doty.")..along with other things ("This week I had implanted my first bionic tooth--a titanium screw into my lower mandible; I have felt no pain...).
When you read lines like "Don't think me cynical if I find love incredible," you can't help but read this as a warning to the critic. in fact, the book transforms itself into something critic-proof. When they reference Sappho, Housman ("the best"), and Shakespeare, you don't feel the allusion are a nod to the audience, an insistence for approval, like the kind of poem the University of Chicago press goes ga-ga for. It's thrown into the poem because they felt like throwing it in; they like books because they do, not because they should.
As Bryan Borland's still new Sibling Rivalry Press (already highly regarded) continues to take off, you can't help but hope he doesn't begin to only publish more mainstream authors, like the precocious Saeed Jones and the established Matthew Hittinger, but also takes in what ultimately be the more unexpected projects from people who don't seem to have MFAs or the most embarrassing sort of Ph.D. (yes, you can still purchase one in creative writing if your multiple-choice skills are intact.) Flawed and wholly undisciplined as it may be, perhaps an integral part of its strength, the unstoppable joy of writing surfaces in Noctural Omissions, which is perhaps the most radical act of all.
Gavin Dillard's and Eric Norris' Nocturnal Omissions: A Tale of Two Poets is available through Sibling Rivalry Press.