Sunday, 9 November 2014

Entertaining the Notion — Bigfoot for Women, Amy Pickworth

REVIEW

Orange Monkey Publishing
November 01, 2014 

$14.99

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Dunno, try saying it slow like.
                                                    Ent-er-tain-ing the No-tion. 

Nah, not quite. Not quite what I'm getting at. Maybe try whacking a comma in there?                                                      
                                                                                                   Entertaining, the Notion.
                                                                                                   Almost! What about ...
                                                                                                   Entertaining, the Notion is?

Mmm. Write review I will. Fuck off Yoda. Better to just let the phrase revolve round its original, its familiar point of reference, that of a verbal phrase. To entertain the notion, it's something that you do. What does not doing it lead to? Lemony Snicket will tell you.

Entertaining a notion, like entertaining a baby cousin or entertaining a pack of hyenas, is a dangerous thing to do. If you refuse to entertain a baby cousin, the baby may get bored and entertain itself by wandering off and falling down a well. If you refuse to entertain a pack of hyenas, they may become restless and entertain themselves by devouring you. But if you refuse to entertain a notion — which is just a fancy way of saying that you refuse to think about a certain idea — you have to be much braver than someone who is merely facing some blood-thirsty animals, or some parents who are upset to find their little darling at the bottom of a well, because nobody knows what an idea will do when it goes off to entertain itself. — Lemony Snicket, Horseradish

If anybody has more than an inkling about just how dangerous entertaining or not entertaining a notion can prove to be then it's Amy Pickworth, author of Bigfoot for Women, which I'll be reviewing this time around. Bigfoot for Women reads, if anything, like an exercise in entertaining the notion, in recording what happens when us ironical 21st century oiks try to take something seriously for once.

“Nobody knows what an idea will do when its goes off to entertain itself,” but with Amy’s help we get that bit closer to recognising our ignorance, getting that bit more warmed up to just how entertaining not knowing can be.



Take, for example, how the book successfully, with the help of this thematic myth, meditates on the personal, and—just as adroitly—mediates between that personal identity and our social-seemingness. In ‘Vacuuming the carpet’ the personal, the touchingly familiar is lit up all sorts of colours by the initial out-there-ish-ness of Bigfoot and aliens and belief: 

[…] I think about
Bigfoot, about aliens and belief
and how we end up doing all the things
we mocked our mothers mercilessly for. 

(‘Vacuuming the carpet,’ 26)

Those quick key changes are typical of this book and of its author's adaptive style. Take these excerpts from the found poem on page 27:

bigfoot is alive and well in boston
bigfoot is no tall tale to true believers in ohio
bigfoot is living in minnesota
bigfoot is the unknowable masculine
bigfoot is grendel
bigfoot is being carried on in california
bigfoot is having an affair with my mother
bigfoot is an assistant professor in the department of pediatrics

(‘Found google poem,’ 27)

Although disappointed my frantic googling didn't produce even remotely similar results (suggesting the poem wasn't so much found as looked for?) the quick, contrasting movement of these images and ideas had me entertained. And yes, in true cliche reviewer form, I laughed out loud. 

It's worth tapping into the internet thing while we're here. Though I'm sure other books have done it, Bigfoot for Women comes with a series of hyperlinks and full-length URLs to type into your browser. Though that might suggest this book's relationship to the net is somewhat superficial, it isn't. The whole book is interlaced with directives and language that resembles that of the blogosphere and terra-forum. 

Please do not focus on […]
Listen to the words […]

Think about […] 
Go here […]
Understand that […]

(‘Suppose I shredded a Kleenex,’ 24)

The language of the book is entertainingly direct, reading as much like an arcane instruction manual as a book of poetry. Though this does become repetitive, and I was far too lazy to tap in full URLs (can't have done that since dial-up), the web connection isn't just a gimmick and I do recommend you follow at least some of the links because they're choicely curated. (Dogs with human faces people, they're re-al.)

The last two things to get in, before my word count is disgraced, are the design of the book and two longer narrative poems that I feel are really key to the concept of the book and help to make it one of the more memorable things I've read recently. 

God I could use a beer. I miss drinking.
Eight years sober, but I still remember
how it tasted—like cold summer sunshine,
like baseball playoffs with you in the lead. 
What I wouldn’t give for a beer sometimes.
Christ, for a six-pack, that soft warm fadeout. 

(‘Darkling, I listen,’ 31)

The first person narrative of this poem is done in a voice utterly convincing and, surprisingly, lyrical. The good ole fashioned ennui that the rather stubbornly white male narrator relates is transformed into something both achingly contemporary and genuinely touching. More or less the same can be said of the later ‘King Kong is in constant danger.’ 

And then he’s free! Chomping a banker! Reaching in
a window for one starlet, ogling another […] 
                                          He moves on, rips up
some train tracks out of spite, punches a darkened car,
clambers to his perch […] 

Trapped, biplanes ratatatting away, he touches 
fingertips to chest, examines the bloody stream.
Now he’s losing steam fast [...]

You don’t need to watch his awkward descent, banging
hard against every stepped-back granite ledge. You know
it wasn’t the airplanes that got him. 

(‘King Kong is in constant danger,’ 38)

How this manages to do what it does, how it manages to be entertaining and touching, is beyond me. The fine attention to detail surely doesn't hurt however; that ‘granite ledge’ and the fact that it is so precisely ‘stepped-back’ hits me as hard as Kong. It's dead good. The anechoic chamber of the ending is just as fantastically brutal too.

Design wise Bigfoot had me salivating before I'd even turned to the first page. And the good news is it just gets better. From the tiny patterned Bigfoot symbols in the flyleaf, to the extended spread of the photos within, not to mention to crisp and impeccably stylish attention to font, Lucinda Hitchcock's creation is astoundingly beautiful. For a small (always think that sounds somewhat patronising, let's say independent), for an independent publisher like Orange Monkey Press to have such high production values is superb. 

Although I regret that I've not been able to do the book justice in this review, I'm comforted by the thought that Bigfoot for Women is one notion of a book that will, by turns, entertain and be entertained for years to come.  

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Afterthoughts

i) Dan Madden was heard to suggest QR codes in place of the book's cumbersome URLs to Lawrence Eby of Orange Monkey Press. Sounds like a good idea if ever there was one, no doubt it's been done but is not being done widely enough. 
ii) Seriously, follow some of those links, who knows where you'll end up. Tomhanksimals anyone? 

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