Recently attended the Denver/Vancouver reading in which a few poets from Denver, CO were paired up with a few of Vancouver’s poets (why not, right? Our cities already half-rhyme!) It was a lovely and weird reading; Ray Hsu half-drunkenly left a poem in Stephen Harper’s voicemailbox, Noah Eli Gordon used audience members as readers with on/off switches to create cacophony of voices.
The standout for me was a reading by Sommer Browning, whose first book, “Either Way I’m Celebrating” I consumed in a whirry coffee-buzz the following day.
Browning writes poems and draws little comics and seems to appreciate the relationship that jokes have with poems, how they both tilt and reinvent the world.
Her opening poem at the reading, An Officer And A Gentleman, took the voice of someone guessing in a game of Charades:
Movie. Four Words. First word. Sounds like….making a box with your hands….sculpting, shaping, sounds like shaping, caping, maping, paping, paping? That’s not a word, is it? Paping? Nevermind, go to the second word. Second word. Fingers close together. Inch worm! No. Bit, tiny , little….2001: A Space Odyssey! I don’t know why I said that…
it carries on that way, read at an appropriately frantic and choppy pace by Browning, getting more and more frustrating and absurd, until the arrival at the answer is both a surprise and somehow profound. The poem might be taken as just a clever form, but it illustrates very succinctly the difficulties of communication.
[Browning performing the poem at a different reading (around the 4:52 mark)]
I don’t always totally follow where Browning is going in her poems, but there is something so natural about the voice, one is drawn there anyway. And though often funny, its not the only note played: snappy one-liners are offset by surreal images, and darker contemplations. Sommer can go from talking about watching adult movies as a kid, to sea monkeys, to this ‘we knew our parents didn’t love each other.‘ Her ability to make this work shows a wide range and confidence of voice.
The comics in her book are simple crude illustration that are sometimes surreal, sometimes charmingly wtf, yet always feel at home amongst the poems. Here’s one:
It seems that Browning has put out a number of chapbooks, but this is her first ‘real’ book and one I was grateful to read. With the daunting prospect of putting together my own first book on the horizon, its refreshing to see one that includes a drawing of a dildo riding a bicycle – and yet still holds up as a strong collection. Check out here website and the neat things she does here.