Off My Feet,
This review is from: The Virgin Formica (Paperback)
During a recent visit to New York City a kind friend asked me if I had read any exciting works of poetry lately. Oh yes, I enthused, naming quite a few written by the West Coast-based poets I know best. She was astounded to hear that Sharon Mesmer's THE VIRGIN FORMICA had not made its way into my hands yet, and she rose from the Bowery bench on which we were eating lunch, to find a bookstore and to buy me a copy of the Mesmer book. "She isn't consistently consistent," explained my friend, as we criss-crossed the aisles of McNally Robinson hunting for this text. "And sometimes she goes on and on and you don't really know what she's on about. But when she's hot, she'll burn the house down." We discussed how formica has sometimes been known to resist the highest flames, a chemical polymer that carries within in an appealing "wrinkled" look as though its metallic components had fairly crumpled at birth. "It has a blue cover," my friend recalled, her own brow wrinkled now with difficulty. "and a horrible insect in dissection giving birth to a ball of silken yarn, with little angels in its four corners like Donne."
Together we found the book and on my way home I had myself a quick lesson in "Mesmerism." Part of her appeal is her wry, suggestive tone, an extraordinarily intimate instrument she handles with the precision of a surgeon. It's like she's right in your ear, whispering an exegesis of the past hundred years of culture and history; in a way the whole book seems like a continuing struggle against nostalgia, a redefinition of the "good old days." "Like Bartleby I prefer not to, but I've got a good reason," she confides, in the Audenesque "For the Time Being." The other core component of her appeal is her inventive language, a marvel of clashing registers and vocabularies, so that no matter what's happening in the poetry thematically, one is never bored, only dazzled at so much beauty and strangeness winding up in the same slant rhyme.
A surrealist or at any rate fantastic element imbues the whole. "At Princess Olga's" proceeds with Van Vechtian satire of the high life. "The movement to dispensate any budding footpath perverts/ Set off cautious offspring onto already rickety arpeggios of/ `Want to make more money, Dane?/ Let hogs root through your shame.'" I have decided that the characteristic verb of this verse might indeed be "to set off," for everywhere Sharon Mesmer sets off bells and whistles like a strongman impressing his moll with a mighty thump of the hammer to the love machine. She's not afraid to go to sensitive places, and her epiphanies are, as often as not, slightly embarrassing. "It came to me/ suddenly," she writes, in "Just This," "--Three Dog Night/ Were pretty great!" I had never really been convinced of this sentiment till just now, her enthusiasm and her skeptic eye just sweep you off your feet. Anyway all in all, it was a highly profitable trip to New York.