(Brooklyn, NY: The Operating System, 2016)
If you’re familiar with poet Mark Gurarie, it’s likely you know he’s a musician as well. You might recognize him as a member of the indie-rock band, Galapagos Now! Moreover, his chapbook, Pop :: Song, winner of the 2012 New School Poetry Chapbook Competition, showcases the language and pacing of a musician. In 2016, The Operating System commenced the publishing of print documents from musicians and composers, and they began this project with Gurarie’s debut poetry collection, Everybody’s Automat.
Everybody’s Automat concludes with an intriguing interview with Gurarie by Lynne DeSilva-Johnson, Founder and Managing Editor of The Operating System. The conversation is titled “Of Sound Mind :: Process and Practice.” In this eleven-page conversation, the poet and editor discuss the life and collection of Gurarie. Largely, they focus on the ways in which his work as a musician influence his poetry and vice versa. Gurarie also unpacks his process for writing the collection. For example, he explains that the second section of the book, “Sentimental Animals,” is “musical in its approach; there is no rigid form to speak of.” However, he wants it to “have its own lexicon, and, in particular, to play off the ways that meaning and ‘sentiment’ can be influenced by context.”
In this conversation, Gurarie and DeSilva-Johnson unpack the poems in a way that only musician/poet and editor might be able to, and this discussion is, in and of itself, worth reading. However, while much focus – both within this interview and in the media – has been placed on the ways in which music has influenced Everybody’s Automat and The Operating System’s larger project, there’s much more to this collection. Yes, music is vital to Everybody’s Automat, from Gurarie’s attention to sound, like the “bankrupt branches” of “Sentimental Animals,” to the titles of the poems in the final section, “Song: Poem to be Read in 3:18,” which include the following: “Verse (0:29),” “Chorus (0:21),” “Bridge (0:25),” and “Coda (0:14).” An automat, however, offers up dozens, if not hundreds, of choices. And while here we are consuming alliteration, images, juxtaposition, and more – instead of egg salad sandwiches, hot cups of coffee, and homemade-like apple pie – figuratively, we only need to turn the knob, and the glass door will open. In other words, readers will only need to open the collection in order to find something to love.
The images within Gurarie’s debut collection are what I want to take home. He opens the second section with the following lines:
In the great nostalgia factory
the indented pillows
that pass for sky
This is the beginning of “Sentimental Animals.” No mention of animals is made within these opening lines, nor are there literal clouds of any sort, only “indented pillows / that pass for sky.” Nevertheless, these lines conjure up memories of childhood, more specifically of looking for animals – from alligators to zebras – in the cumulous clouds above. Moreover, as we move throughout the poem, this beginning lends a complexity to the remainder of the piece. The sixth stanza’s “glass / sculptures of octopi,” for example, seem much more tangible, sharp, fragile, and even dangerous when juxtaposed with the cloud animals of childhood. Later, another image brings the two worlds, that of the past and that of the present, together:
in the shape of Australia.
Certainly, these contusions are something of both childhood and our adult world, yet, like most things, they take on a deeper, more complex meaning as we age. We’ve experienced childhood and, also, something beyond it, and we continuously struggle to define it.
The images of Everybody’s Automat are, for me, the most fascinating aspect of the collection. However, the contents of the book are as varied as the section titles, ranging from “Pop: Poem Manufactured in the Furniture Music” to “Resistant is Futile.” Just like at the automats of yesteryear, there’s something for everyone. Go ahead. Turn the knob.
| | |
Heather Lang is the Associate Poetry Editor and Managing Online Editor of The Literary Review.