18 January 2012

The French Exit

I recently read Elisa Gabbert's The French Exit and what initially struck we was how the poems therein were filled with the speaker's dreams or dreamlike landscapes. Whether "We both dream about wild animals" (21), find ourselves in a "sex-dream-cum-anxiety-dream" (24), or dream about the end of love via a tennis match (i.e. "The person I'm playing tennis with keeps changing" (27)), these poems linger in a half-waking space in which the writing employs dream worlds as a conduit for the ideas and emotional register of the poem, the speaker, and/or the poet. Of course, given the nature of dreams, the emotions and ideas are never that clear cut. To wit, in the opening poem "Commissioned," the speaker tell us: "You must know it says. / But in the dream you can't read it. // In dreams there's no quality to the weather" (9). A text we can't read, in weather with no characteristics: we know something is there, but it will remain unknown.

After thinking through the collection a bit more, the body also seemed to be a central trope of the book. Sure "the body wakes up" (13), perhaps from the aforementioned dreams, but this does not make the body anymore clear to the speaker or the audience than the confused emotions and thoughts produced by and within dreams. Take, for example, the beginning lines from the poem "X":
Mindless, the body is perfect,

an outline—form without
content, absent of tone, lying

in the street. (14)
The focus on dreams and bodies is all the more enjoyable in the poems where Gabbert infuses these subjects with a healthy does of humor that also exhibits an impressive intellect. A great example of this confluence of elements occurs in "Blogpoem After Walter Benjamin," which to my mind is the best of the collection; here is the poem in its entirety, which riffs on "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction":
Every time you reproduce a piece of art
you remove some of its aura and that's why
your mix tape didn't impress me much,
it was so fucking aura-less
                                                        but in the film
version of the novelization of this poem
I play myself but have fantastic breasts
and there are probably some blood baths

and also when my fangy tooth catches
on my lip men everywhere crumple
w/ the ecstasy and agony of it and really

who needs aura in your movie when
you're so hot it breaks people's knees. (44)

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