1. You could just write a short summary of the chapbook, which is artfully arranged and darkly comic legal testimony of, no surprise, forcible oral copulation. You could mention that it’s part of Insert Blanc’s Parrot series, provide an excerpt like the one below, and write something to the effect of writing a review of Strict-Lift Conceptual Writing is sort of like writing a review of a rock: is it a good rock? Does it fulfill its implicit goals of being a rock? And so on.
When asked if he orally copulated his victims, appellant said he hadn’t; when asked if he’d forced his victims to orally copulate him, appellant said he hadn’t; later, appellant said maybe he had.
2. You could breeze through description and head straight into a discussion of Strict-Lift Conceptual Writing (henceforth SLCW), outlining the history and current state of it and then providing your opinion of it, writing maybe that unlike the more engaged conceptual writing found in great books like I’ll Drown My Book SLCW is sort of like the kind of joke that’s only funny the first time. The novelty wears off yet you keep hearing the same joke and you’re too bored to laugh so the joke-teller tries to confront you with titillating and/or shocking subject matter and you yawn because SLCW is SLCW is SLCW.
3. You could breeze through points numbers one and two and throw down a gauntlet maybe something like Forcible Oral Copulation would be right at home on Paul Ryan’s bookshelf next to his Rush Limbaugh books because SLCW is inherently neoconservative in its negation of creativity, complexity, and pleasure in favor of dumb objects. SLCW the opposite of Conceptual Art’s dematerialization, a fetishizing of the material and content-free vs. anything remotely avant or provocative, and you could maybe say that SLCW is not going to hurt you but it’s sort of like trying to swat a dead fly with a completely numb arm. You’d go on to shore up your dragging in of capital P Politics by paraphrasing Adrian Piper’s statement that all art is political, whether explicitly or implicitly, and you’d compare the production of SLCW unlike thrilling freeform conceptual writing as a shutting down of possibility, a reduction, conservatism in the literal sense and so in the political. Or maybe you’d avoid politics because SLCW is maybe the it-girl of the 21st century alt lit scene and knocking it would be like yelling back at the television in a room full of people who want you to shut up and just watch like a reasonable person or else leave quietly.
4. You could talk about your history as a rape survivor and wrap your discussion of Forcible Oral Copulation around its ability to do anything other than function as the outcome of an idea, simple curation that puts you on edge even though you’re supposed to be clinically distant and Over It anyway.
5. You could zoom through points one through three and go light on the politics in favor of discussing why conceptual writing, along with The New Sincerity, are relics of Bush-era willful ignorance because both SLCW and The New Sincerity are not sincere but naive in their fumbling mimicry of something past or lost and serve the purpose to present a literary angle of attack that reduces literature to something fundamentally unchallenging and unnecessary. You could maybe bring politics in at this point but maybe not.
6. You could maybe just skip the politics/naiveté stuff because you’re going to get called out on it and it’s more gut than thought-through strategic position and focus instead on the formal qualities of the curation in the pamphlet/chapbook, finding zest in the way Place has crafted her found language re: oral rape.
7. You could just sing. Loud, off-key. “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.”
8. You could hit it through points one and two and then admit that as brief as it is you didn’t even bother to read the whole work, and let that stand as its own review.
9. You could skip points one and two and be radical and just wonder how a writer as brilliant as Vanessa Place and a press that regularly publishes great writers come up with something equivalent to salty oatmeal. Nothing wrong with salt, nothing wrong with oatmeal, but nothing you would necessarily want to spoon up, so you’re confused re: the lukewarm lumps with respect to evidence of brilliance you could document ranging from La Medusa to Place’s use of Facebook as a format for conceptual writing and you could list the great writers Insert Blanc has published or just link to their website. And you could be kid-gloves about this because it’s not as if Forcible Oral Copulation is a steaming pile, more that it just reads as lazy, even the provocative nature of the subject matter. More could have been done here, you could say, but maybe that’s the whole point, you could counter, and you could leave it up to readers to decide what to do re: purchasing decisions based on your cursory summary without either endorsing or naysaying the chapbook because opinion re: a rock is not the point either.
10. You could simply excerpt the text in its entirety and let readers decide what to do from there.
11. Finally, you could be kind of coy and write a sort of meta-review that jabs a few sticks in a few directions but ultimately doesn’t address the work and make a point out of not addressing it because the whole idea is that writing a review of SLCW is cracker-jack because it’s beside the point.
Nicholas Grider is an artist and writer whose work has recently appeared in Conjunctions and Drunken Boat.