Either Way I’m Celebrating by Sommer Browning
(Birds, LLC, Austin, Minneapolis, New York, Raleigh, 2011)
We only shelled out a buck,
knew The Snake Man
was a sham and Electra,
someone’s mother. We were promised
The Smallest Woman in the World,
but expected some specimen in a jar.
Instead, The Smallest Woman in the World
asked for money to buy a wheelchair, said
she was from Trinidad.
We’d never heard of it.
Denver, Colorado poet and artist Sommer Browning’s first trade collection, Either Way I’m Celebrating (Austin, Minneapolis, New York, Raleigh: Birds, LLC, 2011), subtitled “Poems & Comics,” is a charming collection of funny, odd and brilliant poems interspersed with comics that exist like poems themselves, as opposed to illustrations between poems. After years of numerous chapbooks, Browning’s first collection seems concentrated around a trio of suites, from the first thirty or so pages of single-page poems loosely constructed as a single unit to the extended lyric-prose sequences “Vale Tudo” and “To the Housesitter.” The mix is striking, and so very well packaged, from the shorter individual poems at the offset, and the mix of comics that both bookend the entire collection, and are slipped in between sections. As much as the comics write like poems, they also feel like what Terry Gilliam spent years creating as “links” between sketches during episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, those stand-alone animated sketches that took us from what came before to what followed.
The short, sharp lyrics that open the collection write small, philosophical and witty distances, moving from the lyric line to prose poem, a section of poems that cohere, in part, for the blend of styles, all of which revel in her odd humour and dark moments, interspersed with surreal light. Still, for the strength of her shorter poems, it’s in the longer sequences where Browning’s poems really shine, allowing herself the room to stretch out her meditative and oddball directions, as in the opening to the poem “Vale Tudo,” that reads:
Never believe the concierge.
MK and I drove all over hell, Long Island, to find a hotel, motel, that provided pay-per-view so we could watch the Liddel-Sobral fight. Griffin and Bonnar were fighting again, as well. Last time they fought, they both won. MK and I asked the concierge if the hotel had pay-per-view. We wrote down the name of the event, and he went to check. The lobby was the lobby of a plush planet of businessmen and servants. There was a bar. When a beer bottle scuttled across a table, a silk tie squeaked loose. The concierge came back; the news was grim. A child with a buoyant noodle walked by in her underpants; I noticed the staff using fake British accents.
As Browning herself writes, “Vale Tudo, a Portugese phrase meaning ‘anything goes,’ is a Brazilian mixed-martial arts combat fighting style. There are few rules, Fighters are unarmed and incorporated any form of martial art, such as Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, or traditional boxing techniques, to submit or knock out their opponents.” Who else could possibly imagine composing a poem-sequence blending hotels with mixed-martial arts with the Walt Whitman Birthplace Historic Site, and do it so well? Closer to the end of the twenty-two-page sequence, the poem reads:
Historic Sites are usually a crock of shit.
The building is boring. The parking lot is boring. The wet birds are boring. The rain is boring. The vines disguised as telephone wires are boring. The cars are boring. The red fence around the place is boring. The low clouds are boring, the way the threaten rain is boring. Walt Whitman, we are sorry we missed UFC: 62.
There is just something about the longer sequence that seems entirely built for the mind of poet Summer Browning; something about the space that allows her thoughts and lines to freely, openly roam. It’s as though the shorter poems are nearly too small to contain her, as in this section from the twenty page “To the Housesitter,” that reads:
is shaped like candy. And the candy inside its dribbling refrigerator is shaped like mouths. And the house. It sits on a hill shaped like a hill. It’s shaping, its flat parts peak, its inside furrows, then opens to grab you. Then, you are shaped. Now, you are then shaped, and your then shape punctures the house. Something nuclear. Something west-end and beachy. You are still at work. Like the men.
Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, his most recent titles are the poetry collections Songs for little sleep, (Obvious Epiphanies, 2012), grief notes: (BlazeVOX [books], 2012), A (short) history of l. (BuschekBooks, 2011), Glengarry (Talonbooks, 2011) and kate street (Moira, 2011), and a second novel, missing persons (2009). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Jennifer Mulligan), The Garneau Review (ottawater.com/garneaureview), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com