Friday, November 13, 2015

Michael Lake reviews Gil McElroy’s Twentieth (2013) in Broken Pencil #69

Michael Lake reviews Gil McElroy’s Twentieth (2013) in Broken Pencil #69. Thanks so much! This is actually the first review of McElroy’s second last above/ground press chap (this one has appeared since). And, while we might think that the reviewer might need to read a bit more (why do so many reviewers from Broken Pencil say things like “I don’t get it, therefore the author needs to do more work”?), we very much appreciate his attention.
The eight poems in Gil McElroy’s latest chapbook are each a hazy snapshot of an early-twentieth century French poet or artist. We get Tzara, Picabia, Breton, Apollinaire, and some perhaps less familiar names like Desnos, Eluard, and Aragon. The poems’ titles indicate their subject, but any other reference [to] the artist’s life or work will likely have no entry point for the average reader.
            In “Aragon,” McElroy writes: “Wednesday it happened./ Cushy foreskins, suddenly./ Her breasts/ His marriage/ Broom broom”. Or from “Picabia”: “A dream/ should cure me, a sock in/ one’s pocket that turns/ into salmon outfits”. The writing is always vivid, but the specificity of McElroy’s allusions is lost without a larger conceptual framework in which to understand them. We are left without any indication as to where these poems are rooted: is it biography, interpretation of the artist’s work, or McElroy himself?
            Each poem is in two parts, the second of which is presented as footnotes of sorts. The writing in these sections have a feverish intensity gained through repetition and surreal imagery and is the most compelling part of the collection. From “Breton”: “In my sleep I see Breton in the trees./ Breton will be everything I’ve ever lost./ Breton will be drawing a crowd, Breton all alone./ Breton you notice./ Breton is passing by.”
            Twentieth could have benefitted from an author’s note to better position readers in this unfamiliar terrain. As it is, the handling of a very niche subject will leave many readers feeling on the outside of McElroy’s vision.

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