Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Microreviews: Bryan Borland's "Less Fortunate Pirates" and Aaron Smith's "Appetite"

Generosity can be an unfortunate trait in the poetry world.  One of the most exciting new presses, Sibling Rivalry Press, was created by Bryan Borland; he's already brought so much attention to poets like first book authors such as Saeed Jones and Matthew Hittinger as well as veterans like Michael Klein.  In his constant drive to help others, his own new sincere, edifying book, Less Unfortunate Pirates: Poems from the First Year Without My Father, has somehow slipped through the cracks.  It's an elegy to his father.  The story behind his press is simple: Bryan wanted a published book of poetry, asked his father, who gave him $1000 to do so.  This money was used to put his own book in the world, and, by extension, the press.  One could view Borland's book as not only touching remembrances of his father, but also, a poetic explanation of what motivated him to establish his own reputation as a poet and community leader.  Unashamedly straightforward, Borland declares in one of his best poems "The Day I Find My Father's Lost Wedding Ring": "I slide it on and it fits./Suddenly we are linked by numbers/and gold, size-seven fingers and thirty years..."  One cannot help but see this conflation of identities as a precursor to the exchange that resulted in his own vibrant career.  Very rarely does Borland stretch the pirate conceit too much, and even when he does, it feels almost justified; he's trying to make sense of his own confusing relationship with his father through forcing it into a unified narrative.  He's aware of the inherent awkwardnesses of such a project.  As he quite effectively writes, "I refuse to keep you in boxes/or hanging in guestroom closets the way/my mother holds onto my brother,/but isn't it the same that I pour your ashes/into unmetered verse?"

Bryan Borland's Less Fortunate Pirates is available through Sibling Rivalry Press.


In a way, Aaron Smith's second full-length book collection, Appetite, is essentially a repackaging of his very fun, wonderful chapbook Men in Groups.  This choice to make Appetite an extension of the chapbook rather than create something entirely new yields a limitation or two.  A few of  his additions feel dated: "The Problem with Straight People (What We Say Behind Your Back)," for instance, deals with gay rage, detailing the almost comic transcriptions of his friend's thoughts: "Brandon on the phone: We should start straight bashing.  Find an asshole straight guy and beat him with a bad,/ fuck him in the ass."  The centerpiece of the book consists of a prosaic litany of his favorite parts of movies.  It lasts eight pages; he sometimes relies on the easy joke: "I love the part in Watchmen where Patrick Wilson is naked.  I love the part in Hard Candy where Patrick Wilson is naked.  I love the part in Passengers where Patrick Wilson is naked."  The most memorable ones contain, to his credit, the most gutsy, depraved humor: "My friend Matt admitted he jerked off to the rape scene in The Accused: 'I knew she wasn't really being raped, and that one guy had a nice ass.'"  The flat deadpan here works great.  There are no apologies; Smith is good at being thoughtless and mean.  It's his self-conscious that can from time to time deflate his own comic set-ups.  A few of best poems here do come from the chapbook: "Diesel Clothing Ad (Naked Man with Messenger Bag)), "Fat Ass," and "Hurtful."  With this book-length collection, you have to hunt around for them a little bit, rather than in the chapbook, they would pop up almost immediately.  There's nothing anorexic about a chapbook; it can be a beautiful thing in and of itself.

Aaron Smith's Appetite is available through University of Pittsburgh Press.