Rise in the Fall (Birds, L.L.C, 2013) by Ana Božičević, winner of the 2013 Lambda Literary Award, has won many readers with its charm, intelligence, wit, honesty, and an unlikely (given the odds) affirmation of beauty. On her web page, Ana Božičević identifies herself simply as “poet.” Dashing simplicity is an aspect of the fascination, dashing being both a term of fashion, hip au courante, and a put down. Telling perceptions: “sadness is a substitute for sex”(19). Desire that is purely sexual: “to fuck a train station in the snow” (33). Surprising beauty: “I dreamed of clear waves like arches / an amusement park in the snow.” (72). I engage this book because I truly love it and learn from it on each re-reading.
Some poems seem to ramble. “Poem,” from which the last lines above were extracted, may be an example. It is a rambling poem that hones in on its truths like a hornet. I was going to say arrow, but there is a stark avoidance of truly violent “hard-on” producing imagery like “bombs” in Rise in the Fall, an avoidance that is timely in the days of beheading. Her choice of diction, all mockery aside and there is plenty of mockery, is sensitive to the war-torn history of her native lands.
“Poem” is constructed from a long pastiche celebrating the glamour of Elizabeth Taylor, followed by an anecdote of sadism from the lives of pre-teen girls, best friends, who “were raping each other because we didn’t know a different language …the chewed Barbies were unspeakable” (73). The poem is both a deconstructivist criticism of the effects of glamour-capitalism and an indictment of language’s inadequacies with respect to love and beauty. The fantasy is punctuated with words like “useless” and “out of reach.” And yet, “Poem” is also a sensuous and intimate declaration of love, simple and heartfelt. In many senses Rise in the Fall is, as Elisa Gabbert has noted, “performative” (Lemon Hound April 17, 2013). Rise in the Fall is a suite of love poems and also a book of testimony.
I want to write in-depth about a short poem, “The Day Lady Gaga Died” (52). Blunt parody, appalling fiction. No tristess.
“What is this day: is it like rainbow
and abstract I kinda grasp, is it a house with the white streamers on it
how can I get at it.
The period is functional, the diction rocks. The “white streamers” haunt. I associate these with a child’s funeral, perhaps childhood and nostalgia? When Pope John Paul II visited Rijeka, Croatia, on June 6, 2003, thousands of school children waving white streamers greeted him I have no cultural basis for my assumption regarding Božičević’s imagery.
“Once I knew a girl called herself Beauty
and her leather accessories Beasts.
So can things be what I name them, is that the secret?
Between fairytale and a hint of sadism lies poetry’s source, some have said. I’ve been told that muses no longer exist or if they do they objectify women. Haunting beauty exists in childhood, scarily haunting. Magical thinking remains the crucial power of poetry?
“Once on a time in Osteuropa
a girl lived who went to the Contours Club
she touched herself on a Slope among the Sunclouds™.
When I was 17, I met a girl from Osteuropa. The Berlin wall had just gone up. My images, rereading these lines, are of health clubs and ski resorts, masturbation.
“That all sounds vapid. Yeah, I touched myself. Kind of fat,
never thought I was a natural, a star,
I just didn’t “get” the others. But you,
you don’t want to hear that part, you just want me to keep having sex
among the politics.
Trenchant realism. Misplaced identity. The arguments related to identity and empowerment are here but undercut by the insistence on “politics.” Shared intimacies do not interest her lover. Repression results. The lines read as if someone had told her to grow up but in the remonstrance intimacy is short circuited.
“Fuck you: all I want to write about is
bumble bees, bumble bees.
I need these lines for my own work. Would that resistance and insistence and lyrical panache defined my poetry as much as they do that of Ana Božičević.
“New York School is because
you have to name things in New York.
Otherwise, too much exists.”
“Poem” resolves by exploding the metaphysics of naming and challenges the high seriousness of art. I am learning that too much pretension wearies the soul. Rise in the Fall presents a sweet surfeit of both longing and parody, humor that does not kill anxiety or beauty. “Kill” is a comedic term, too. My senses are charged by these lines, “I’d settle for you // just trembling next to me. Don’t you know how to do that anymore? / Do you know how unhappy one is / who wants a ghost for a horse …”, lines from the title poem (61-62). For me, amidst all the ambiguities generated by my multiple identities, the inability, confessed to here, being unable to describe “green” or “love” or “lesbian love” moves the intellect from naming to feeling. Essential poetry.