Tyler L. Gobble

A review of Adam Robinson's Say, Poem

Say, Poem
Awesome Machine Press, April 2010
72 pages, paperback
currently $3

Refreshing. This book is simply that. One part meta-contextual explanation/reading of poems in print (section called Say, Poem). One part awkward, mishaps of jokes (Section called Say, Joke). The way this book exists, raw, out there, and open, brings delivery to the forefront. In one part, we get more than just poems, we get the thoughts and the attempts at presentation. In the other part, we get failed jokes, misplaced jokes, misfired jokes.

Bearing the book’s title, the section Say, Poem would seem like the glue that holds this book together. It is strong, maintaining a sense of purpose, as existing beyond just a group of poems. This section is insightful to the thoughts behind the poems, the thoughts behind the presentation.

As a poet, I like other poets. In this section, readers encounter another poet, an exposed poet and his thoughts and delivery. Not only are lines like “Oh wait—say, I’m not nervous—/I just like shaking paper” a part of the poem, but they are about the poem and about the poet. For me, the most enjoyable quality of this section is that feeling of layers to each line, different purposes for each line.

One question: How would I feel about the poems in the Say, Poem section if not in the meta-contextual style, but existing as just the poems? I look at a poem like “Bodies Like Rope,”—short, sentimental—and I think I probably wouldn’t like it as much if it weren’t compounded in this long poem, meta-contextual style. However, I think this isn’t the point. These poems are not individual poems; they make up this whole. What makes these poems work is the placement within this running poem.

If Say, Poem is the glue, these Say, Joke would be the flashy parts, like the intriguing cover to get you to pick it up. Stripped of the in-between commentary, Say, Joke has a little joke per page. While these seem raw and unfiltered, there are binding threads, like in Say, Poem, that make these pieces more than comic relief. There are characters (both as people and laugh out loud characters), such as Carl and The Other Guy. For instance, the opening page of the section offers this opening joke:
It’s good to be back in Baltimore, he said. I just returned from Pensacola and boy, they let you smoke anywhere down there. Smiling onto the patio he withdrew a cigarette. Yeah, I tried to quit. It’s hard! My friend Carl goes, You should try carrot sticks, so I did. I did, yeah, he said. They smell funny when you light ’em.
An opening like this prepares us for what we are getting in this section: the style of humor, the intro of the jokester, this Carl friend. But when read together, the cool thing about this section is the commentary that each “misfired” joke seems to carry. Within this section of short “failed” jokes seems successful commentary on comedy, on poetry, on life.

What makes this book so great is that it is easy reading. No, it is not fluffy easy, but enjoyable easy. Where the book gets excellent is when you discover the layers packed into it. Where other poem collections try to hit you with fancy or loftiness, Say, Poem comes right out and says it: hey, this is a book of poems and here is what is going on.

Tyler L. Gobble is a student at Ball State University, where he is President of the Writers Community. He is also a poetry intern for The Collagist. His poems have appeared in such publications as 13 Myna Birds and The Broken Plate, and he has a review forthcoming in The Southeast Review. He blogs here.
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