You Can Make Anything Sad
by Spencer Madsen
Publishing Genius, April 2014
90 pages / $10 Preorder from Publishing Genius
Spencer Madsen’s latest book, You Can Make Anything Sad, seems to be a response to a question Spencer asks himself within the poems he writes: Who am I and what am I doing? The poems constantly shift in image, but seem to stay in a general area of themes and moods. He plays with his voice, and style, to create something that feels very much completed, while at the same time quite fragile and open. It’s sincerely insincere, approaching the mundane as if it was wondrous, and the wondrous as if it was mundane.
I move back to Facebook, I type:
If you feel an aversion to me and I don’t feel an aversion to
you, please don’t feel an aversion to me.
I think about how my parents had hoped for more.
I think about letting them down constantly.
I think, at least I’m not a murderer.
Mostly because murderers are very ambitious.
The feeling I get most of all from these poems is a sense of longing. A longing for connection, a longing to feel less exhausted, and a longing for some sort of concrete idea of identity. With this is a feeling of cynicism, a sort of “I know it sucks but what are you going to do about it,” juxtaposed with lines that feel lost and alone.
I look at my hands typing and I make fun of them, only
without words, because that’s how my brain interacts with
I have this very uncomfortable feeling of doing nothing.
Just sitting. Trying to get rid of it. Eating excessively.
There is also an element of humor, but a humor that is made to appear as if ‘by accident’. These poems are funny, but they’re only funny because of how sad and existential the lines that precede and follow them are. It’s the dry, matter of fact tone of the absurd which makes you ask yourself ‘am I supposed to be laughing?’
A new dance called please don’t look at me.
A new dance called some babies look like weird fish.
A new dance called emotionally abusive relationship status
A new dance called are they any flights that go to my
A new dance called disappointed by this coffee and other
decisions I’ve made in my recent history.
A new dance called talking to your parents becomes
increasingly depressing and necessary as you get older.
A new dance called crying in public places for no discernible
A new dance called things you don’t want to do but should
do but don’t have to do but you do anyway.
A new dance called wishing I was someone else but that
person didn’t have to be me.
I feel like Madsen, in writing this book, is working with the idea that we no longer have one identity, but instead occupy many. He is the observer both inside and outside his body; he extends his subjectivities and hates all of it.
‘ Would read a self-help book called How to feel productive
on the internet.’
But ultimately, these poems seem to come from a person who just wants a connection, physical and otherwise. The poems portray the thought pattern of someone who is in a crisis of identity, and meaning, and is looking for someone or something to help relieve this crisis. The poems are also aware that the position that they take isn’t the only one, and that in fact almost everyone feels the same way. In doing so, the central figure of the poems is fractal; they are a collection of “we’s” using the name “I”.
‘ The most basic subtext of everything people put on the
internet is “Hello.”’
‘ Grasping for something in another person, the way seats
on the train become available right before your stop.’
‘ And if nothing is truly disparate, than there is some sort of
interconnectivity to all matter, something not just material
like carbon or hydrogen, but written within our most
basic perception, where we are able to see that blue and
yellow sort of convey the same thing even though they are
different colors, that a rough surface can be used to make
I feel that this book, as well as being powerful in it’s meaning, is at the same time very fragile. They are fragile because of how well the pieces are written, and if a line was left out or put out of place, then the piece would lose it’s impact; and Spencer is obviously aware of this. And because the work is so technically proficient, this allows the subject matter to become charged with meaning; is it the form or the content which shines through.
Ultimately, what Spencer has achieved with this is clarity. The work is both precise and decisive. It isn’t afraid to be strong and frail at the same time, nor is it afraid to cry when it wants to. This book shows that Spencer truly can make anything sad.