The Parrot series, published by Insert Blanc Press, was much like its imprint started in a mess of pleasant confusion—my understanding is Insert was at first largely a fake press, that slowly became real—in that prior to the actual writing of each Parrot chapbook, they were simply descriptions of (fake) books by (real) authors to include in the entire fiction that is Insert Blanc; however, after a time, the authors of the (fake) descriptions of the Parrot books were asked to actually write them. What the real story is exactly I’m not particularly concerned. I received seven of the Parrot chapbooks—8-14—and for the past few weeks I’ve carried them around in my backpack, taking one out at random when a moment presented itself for a brief dose of whimsy and entertainment, and what follows will be my perceptions of each of them commingled with anything else I have inside my head upon reading.
Also, I’d like to note as an aside the mere pleasure of a well-made chapbook brought along with your other essentials day-to-day. These Parrots are very well-made, pleasing to look at, to hold, to flip through or to sit down mulling over as seriously as your favorite paperbacks. They call to mind not the muddled shelf of desperate/overwhelmingly-similar zines at any record store on the planet, but a sturdy, comfortable nook in a café where people actually give a shit about reading and are curious about the potentialities of language. Anyway, I digress, but really, I like these books a whole lot.
PARROT 8 ‘I Fell in Love With a Monster Truck by Amanda Ackerman’
As I was reading this, I began seeing a hunched decrepit figure in the periphery of my right eye, and it was terrifying so I stuck to the narrative at hand and by the time I was done the figure was gone, so that was good. I don’t want to use the phrase “prose poem” for as long as I live—quotations aside, I guess—so I’m not going to do that here but that’s kind of what this one is. These are chapbooks of poetry, in so many words, but this one reads like a brief Beckettian memoir of a young person who’s constantly being given workout advice at very inopportune moments and cannot fit through doors and constantly refers—as a Bartleby, of sorts—back to the phrase ‘I WILL NOT PROFIT FROM THE SUFFERING OF OTHERS’—and as a person on a couch reading this I realized that the title mattered in an indirect way but the guts and the language of the thing were compelling and confusing and intriguing and I kept reading—I like to think at the pace of the author while writing it, altogether manic and piling atop itself in fits of hilarity—and by the time it was done I knew I’d read a portrait of some life somewhere and that was good, too. Also, the Keith Haring-esque drawings throughout complimented the work better than most drawings throughout poems/stories tend to do; which is to say, they often don’t (do not) and perhaps only work 23% of the time…
PARROT 9 ‘Politicized Pretty Picture by Stan Apps’
I’m interested in the potential hinted at by the structure of this poem. Basically it’s an essay, a list, describing the societal considerations and community strictures/benefits related to “prettiness” in our world. For a minute I believed the author had tapped into something entirely new and unprecedented and though examples came shortly thereafter to counteract this theory—Gibran, Lao and Sun Tzu, etc.—I still believe that the exact method employed here—numeration, academic language balanced against personal/poetic reflection, etc.—does hearken to something new and I’m interested in this. The subject of prettiness may be an interesting thing to most readers, and I think the words used here to describe it do just as good a job as any formal essay you’re likely to find, but the structure of this work is what I find most striking.
PARROT 10 ‘I Can Feel by Teresa Carmody’
This book begins with nods to Hemingway in the form of a man and woman sitting around talking about the hills that look like white elephants and having beer in a café waiting for a train. The use of dialogue is particularly effective and though a following segue strikes the reader like said oncoming train the mood of Hem’s early stories is captured nearly perfectly. The aforementioned segue into very mechanical descriptions of certain chemical compounds—anti-psychotics, I believe, depression medication et cetera—is quite abrupt, and though for me this broke the story up so distinctly that I found things hard to follow there was a certain comfort when, later, we came back to the two characters sitting around anticipating their train. I wonder about the effectiveness of things like this, or how the world will read this story; we begin in the style of a man who made a great many concessions to the reader, and suddenly the endnotes of Wallace are staring us in the face relentlessly and for me a brief headache arose; yet this story does remain one of the more curious in the bunch. I wonder.
PARROT 11 ‘Forcible Oral Copulation by Vanessa Place’
Oddly enough I kept thinking about DeLillo during this reading, his mention in his Paris Review interview of reading The Warren Report during the writing of Libra and referring to it as a sort of Joycean novel; and while the lines in this book are more akin to Markson’s later stuff—no indentation, flat language, the phrase “oral copulation” or some variation therein is used so many times I had to stop counting—it’s that dry, courtroom language that gives this book its humor, and its substance. I feel strange admitting that the first book in this series that made me laugh out loud was one titled Forcible Oral Copulation but I should be honest and say that it is even though you’re now operating under the impression I’m a bastard/pervert/savage/bye.
PARROT 12 ‘Fried Chicken Dinner by Janice Lee’
Consider this now and forever the final treatise on fried chicken dinners for this, or any world. Another structural flair shown here with the words largely taking place on the bottom of the printed page and only inching their way up to create lists of known fried chicken dinner fast food joints or give an actual recipe for your very own fried chicken (this, by itself, makes it all worth it). At first I was tempted to decipher three major voices at play in this book: an academic citing the histories of fried chicken dinners back to Darwin, a local sort who argues vehemently about the provenance of good fried chicken and emphatically calls the world “dawg” in the proper use of the word, and a maternal character dropping hints throughout and finally giving that recipe for “Cornflake Fried Chicken”. However, at a second glance I realized this is more a compendium of thoughts on fried chicken and does not in fact limit itself to three souls and their expertise on good poultry. All the same, I laughed out loud again and I’m starving.
PARROT 13 ‘Tramps Everywhere by Amina Cain’
This is the story of Mary Lebyatkin, told in a screenwriting format, and while Mary does herself make a brilliant little mini-tragedy I’m again taken with the format of the story told and would prefer to focus on that. I think the first time I experienced a novel writing sections of a book in an alternate format—i.e. poetry, playwriting, screenwriting, etc.—was in Scott Fitzgerald’s Beautiful and the Damned where he employs playwriting in certain sections with great talent. I immediately thought of this while reading the story of Mary and her search and plight with the very characteristically-tragic Nikolai and couldn’t really shake this the rest of the way through. I like this fucking idea. I like the idea of an entire novel written in the form of a screenplay that could never possibly be filmed for some such reason throughout. I dunno, maybe I missed something along the way about the guts of the story because of the style in which it was written and maybe that’s a problem but I let myself veer off tangentially to a very pleasant place and was extremely happy with Cain to have gotten there. Finally, I should say that taken as a poem the language used here is actually quite beautiful, and not the dry stuff of run-of-the-mill screenplays.
PARROT 14 ‘Fur Birds by Michelle Detorie’
I’ve tried very hard time and again to assert my views of poetry—and it is this book that I’d most comfortably characterize as poetry, poetry, poetry—that, at its best, is closer to abstract expressionism than any of the other arts, not exactly representative, and yet there are plenty of abstract expressionists who utilize perfectly realistic imagery surrounded by nonsense to illustrate a point. Anyway, it’s this assertion that I felt reflected perfectly in this book; the focus here is not a story, but a portrait, a work of artful rendering of language on each page to illustrate something beyond the words themselves and yet it’s only through those words that we might discover something. Images like a young girl feeling lost, a comb, gray lights and various odd quotations serve to give these poems a grounding in our reality and convey that these are most certainly written by someone of this planet, and yet the shifting structures on each page and the attention to a new set of details—one not already exhausted by notions of prose, or story, or rhythm—presents itself. Certainly one of my favorites in this collection, though each of them without question have their indelible merits.
Grant Maierhofer is writes a weekly column for Delphian Inc. entitled A Cabana of the Mind, he blogs at GrantMaierhofer.Org and lives in the middle of nowhere in Wisconsin.