Dear Lil Wayne & The Arrow
Coconut Books and Magic Helicopter Press
reviewed by Sarah Trudgeon
One of my favorite lines—and there are hundreds just as nauseatingly perfect—in Joe Wenderoth’s Letters to Wendy’s is from the letter written on November 14, 1996. It’s the first snow of the year. The restaurant feels exceptionally full of warmth and caring. Everything is just so perfect, he writes, “I felt like getting fucked up and watching t.v. forever.” You know exactly how he feels. Letters to Wendy’s essentially invents new emotions—or rather, it describes emotions that can only be described in exactly this form, the highly-charged, epistolary prose poem that Wenderoth develops.
Lauren Ireland’s poetry collection Dear Lil Wayne—with its collage of emotions and complaints and confessions—is written in the same spirit. “Tell me what to do with these feelings,” she begs. The answer, of course, is make them into poems. The book is composed of sixty-two postcard poems addressed (and some of them sent) to Lil Wayne during and after his 2010 incarceration on Riker’s Island for criminal possession of marijuana and a .40 caliber pistol. The poems are part diary, part letter, full of sadness and desire for everything Lil Wayne seems to represent, all the things the speaker doesn’t have: fame, love, passion, fearlessness. “It’s so hard to be boring in a fascinating world,” she writes. The self-deprecating awareness of the poems makes them both comic and poignant. “I mean, have you read my chapbook? I just want to be famous for being famous.” And some lines are very funny, for example, “Is it in yet? Ha ha no,” or, “There are so many different types of bitches.”
The poems feel very much like postcards—spontaneous, irreverent, abundant with the unexpected pleasures that result from experimenting with form. The postcard is a fragment of stream-of-consciousness that must be written quickly—you must think of something, right now, to say—but also carefully and clearly, because someone else will be reading. Take the opening sentence of the book: “Hey. I hate it when my hands smell like pennies. Do you think we’re too sad for each other?” Or August 24, 2010:
Dear Lil Wayne, Rain all over the rivers. and the concrete. Gentle ozone. Everything is sad and the feelings! Are you ever sorry? I am. Lately I have been sleepy thuggin over the lazy blankets. What makes pain? Stupid. In 8 million years everyone will be dead. At least I hope. That’ll teach them. My big dumb feelings spread all over. Don’t you wish people would quit stealing our shit? Or at least know who we are.
The poems are less about or for Lil Wayne than they are a way of exploring what it means to write a poem: at its heart, an attempt at meaningful communication with another person, hopefully a broad spectrum of other persons. “What sort of sentences can you say to just anybody?” Ireland asks. At the risk of sentimentality and banality and cheekiness, Ireland seems to broaden the spectrum of feelings a person can have, and so broaden the spectrum of universal communication. “It’s like the time in Philadelphia when I felt pure despair while Augie masturbated in my bedroom,” she writes. There are no words for that feeling but the whole sentence—and somehow, you know exactly how she feels.
The hyper self-consciousness, the desire, and the inquisitiveness of the letters also play out in The Arrow, Ireland’s other full-length collection to be published in 2014, which includes poems from her chapbook Sorry It’s So Small (Factory Hollow Press, 2011). The first poem ends, “disappointment & glitter, disappointment & glitter / love stuff love stuff blah blah blah,” the speaker pre-empting any doubts or criticisms the reader might have, as if to say: Whatever you think of me or this poem, I think worse; now let’s move on. These poems are all about sex and death and fear of death—“tiny fear of tiny death”—and feeling so bad it must be worse than the nothingness of death. Though not composed of sonnets, The Arrow has a sonnet-sequence-like narrative—despair, break-up, despair, inklings of new love—of which the poet-speaker is all too aware: “O kill me I am dead,” she writes, and “How exciting to be heartbroken and glad of it.” To the beloved: “Please Get Out of My Poems.”
Like the poems of James Schuyler or the sonnets of Ted Berrigan, The Arrow takes place during a certain time in New York, and the poems often address or refer to specific friends and family members. They are like collages from someone’s diary; reading the book, you feel like you’re eavesdropping, as if you’re catching it in the act of being written. Or they’re like bird nests, worked up out of fragments of image and emotion. “I dream of animals,” Ireland writes, namely: mollusks, wolves, pelicans, a “shark’s vagina,” seagulls, bats, beetles, and, more generally, “large animals.” The speaker, here and in Wayne, always seem to be reaching for some dreamy outside.
The eclecticism and patchwork feel of The Arrow is amplified by the way Ireland scores the poems with large spaces, indicating how to read them, where to take a breath. “What Is True and What Isn’t” begins,
To start I am the room silver wallpaper in the last light you turn over I Want I want to be a salt lick a little hysterical The deer fly over slanted fence at impossible speeds to-day to-day cut for a man improbable tableax with kimonos go ahead I’m not listening your small face my dear green boots
Formally, the poems often work themselves into a repetitive frenzy. Ireland’s musical stutters include, among many others, “Shake shake / shake shake / shake” (“Polish Girls Sunbathing), “plenty of plenty of” (“In Mexico, Boyfriends), “Darling of / Darling of” (“The Feeling of Being Alone in the Woods”), “salt salt salt” (“Something Is Messed Up Real Bad”), “I fell down / I fell down” (“Things Back Home”), “the time the time that the time” (“Poppea in Milk”) and “give me my fuckin money give me my fuckin money” (“The Summer of Two Thousand Fine”). The end of “The Gestalt or Whatever” reminds me of the final stanza of Frederick Seidel’s ecstatic “Gethsemane”: “The animals, the soft things, / the horns & the horns & the horns & the horns.” (Seidel’s poem ends, “To the crowd. / To the crowd. / To the crowd. / To the crowd. To the crowd. To the.”)
The speaker of The Arrow seems shaky, but the poems have a ragged edge. The repetitions climax in “Long Division,” one of my favorite poems in the book. It begins, “O god inconstance simple terror. / This is my serious face terrible little blitzkrieg. / or something. I am the trembling preposition, fixed” and ends:
I guess. I just want. I just Want to be the sound the arrow makes. I guess I’m I guess a little shaky shaky now.
It’s these “quiet details”—like the sound an arrow makes—that give life to the poems. In the Beer Can Museum they sell “rubber roses. the last of the season.” To quote Ireland on Annie Dillard, “How tenderly on window ledges ugly things alight.” One feels the edge in the final poem, when Ireland writes, “I’m so happy I can’t write.”