on March 14, 2001
I just picked up a copy of "I Remember" at a Joe Brainard retrospective at the Berkeley Art Museum last weekend. All the warmth, humor and good-natured silliness of his art are here in these "poems"--1-3 sentence reminiscences that meander from his Tulsa childhood to sexual experiences in New York in the mid '60s. It's tempting to quote individual lines, but I'd best leave the writing to Brainard. Just dip in anywhere and follow the flow from objects to advertisements to remembrances of friends or incidents or walks, all woven together by the nostalgic refrain: "I remember . . . "
Brainard records impressions like a camera, not trying to make them mean. Without pretension or irony, he mananges to describe an America of a certain time and place more vividly than longer, more macho efforts to capture The American Experience. Brainard makes it seem easy, and he passes the fun on to you. Read, remember, enjoy.
on November 9, 2005
Ah, this little book. "I Remember" is a tiny, funny, heart-warming masterpiece composed entirely of microscopic reflections and remembrances: but like the human body itself, which is of course made up of tiny microscopic cells, the book's one- and two-sentence units of "I remember this or that" recollections gradually build up into a living, breathing, singular human presence.
This book has also become a cult classic for writing instructors, as it often helps unlock a particular gate for students, enabling them to write about their own lives in an open, vivid, and funny way.
(Note to parents and subject-sensitive readers: the book does contain some frank discussions of sexuality, including gay sexuality. Although these passages are honest, humane, and often funny, occasionally they can be a little bit graphic (though not at all trying to be 'shocking' or 'offensive,' simply honest.) But it does mean that the book is not meant for very young readers. Use your judgement.)
Warm, intelligent, vivid, and screamingly funny. To read Joe Brainard is to love the man. We miss you, Joe.
on October 23, 2014
I Remember is a small book, 167 pages of statements all beginning with "I remember." Joe Brainard was born in 1941. He was a painter and artist, and this little book is an art piece itself. His memories are an assortment of pop culture ("I remember 'Love Me Tender,'" "I remember the Liz-Eddit-Debbie scandal") to food ("I remember 'Payday' candy bars and eating the peanuts off first then eating the center part," "I remember 'Spam.'") and sexuality ("I remember getting erections in school and the bell rings and how handy zipper notebooks were," "I remember jerking off to sexual fantasies involving John Kerr. And Montgomery Clift.")
Most of the memories are only 10-20 words, but the longest reach a page (there are only two or three that long, I think.) Reading this is fun. They almost serve as writing prompts, or at least memory prompts, which get you thinking about what you remember too. It's also fun to track Brainard's stream-of-consciousness way of writing. Sometimes you can see how one memory relates to the next, and sometimes it requires quite a leap in logic to get there.
Brainard's images are crisp and clear and he often paints these pictures with very few words. And he hits so many notes. You laugh, you cry! By using "I remember..." before each one, Brainard inspires the reader to response. "Hey, I remember that too!" or "That reminds me of..." It makes reading this book an interactive experience.
on April 6, 2002
I didn't think it could be done, but Joe Brainard has managed to keep me interested through a book-length poem! It's all about the pop culture references and those universal moments of feeling just plain odd. Every stanza begins with "I remember", but he manages not to make it boring at all.
on February 22, 1999
Your reader from Florida was obviously unmoved by this book. A pity. In a poetic series of alternately charming, dry and sometimes tragic aphorisms Brainard constructs a personality from minutiae and individual bits of personal memorabilia. Both haunting and touching I found this to be an extremely gripping read. Any interested parties might be keen to know that a British version of this was published by the writer Gilbert Adair in his book Myths And Memories. It's not that bad, though not a patch on the original.
on April 18, 2005
The other reviewers here have already captured the elegant, loveable essence of this tiny classic. All I'm going to do is tell you how much I agree. And how much you ought to read this.
In particular, the little 5-and-6 entry arcs, where you can trace Joe's associations, and the places where they unexpectedly end up, is quite moving and hilarious. And the very last entry is so wonderful, so unexpected, and so like Joe, it's worth reading the whole book just to get there.
on May 30, 2001
Elegant in its simplicity, its genuine humility in face of all the splendors and confusions of American memory and life.
on July 26, 2008
One of the challenges facing us in the 21st century is that we have too many reading choices; each year (yes each year) around 320,000 books hit UK and USA bookstores alone. And the pace of this is increasing with smaller and smaller print runs meaning more and more specialised segmented reader markets. Don't know about you, but over my allotted 70-80 years I may manage 1001 books to read before you die; meaning that over my life tsunami of published books, I will read a passing sip of around 0.1% only. Think about all those great books that you are going to miss because of the noise from the ones with the best marketing budgets. Or from reading, what you always read.
I Remember by Joe Brainard is one of those books that was buried with the fishes a long time ago yet deserving of a wider readership. Ok let us get to the killer; its poetry linked to the New York School of the 1950-60's, which had a massive influence on contemporary music, art, dance, prose, and poetry. The `movements' approach was observational, physical, using contrasting vivid imagery to shock the observer, listener, or participant into an emotional response that enables a revitalised experience of the world. The poetry of the `movement' was a reaction to the confessional styles of poets such as Sylvia Plath who tended to write about their inner struggles.
Before you think, I sip Earl Grey tea in some fancy café jabbering on about the prevenient nature of the stanza or the catachrestical no-no, of the imagery let me tell you otherwise. My last experience of any poetry was 1975 when I did English Lit O level and although I enjoyed T.S.Elliot and Sylvia Plath, poems on seeing daffodils or Nightingales croaking did zilch for me-and rhymed couplets, please give a guy a break.
To my horror, I discovered I have to write an 80-line poem for my University Creative writing course in the autumn. Reading the course materials calmed me down. The course teaches you to start with an image or word and then free write a story. This triggers decisions on line, stanza, metre etc depending on the mood and scope of the poem. Suddenly it started to make sense so much so that I wrote my first poem in over 40 years. It was doing the background reading that led me to I Remember by Joe Brainard, which is poetry in ways you don't imagine.
He was a major painter, as well as poet, with a keen interest in collage and assemblage. One of his central works was a collection of over 3000 postcard size images that reflected the public-private experience of living in New York. The book reflects this technique by assembling hundreds of lines starting with I Remember. You may recognise it as a well-known technique for teaching children poetry. The lines list the fashions and fads, public events and private excesses of his 40's and 50's childhood as well as his creative life of the 60's and 70's in simple, honest and witty lines that spin off from each other. In reading, you are hooked into a poetry biography like no other.
You may never have given avant-garde 70's poetry a thought before but make it one of your 1001 books to read if you get the chance. It's only a 175 page slurp of a book readable in 1-2 hours as you surf through lines like this:
I remember when babies fall down "oopsydaisy"
I remember, with a limp wrist, shaking your hand back and fourth real fast until it feels like jelly.
I remember trying to get the last of cat food from a can.
I remember when a piece of hair stands up straight after a night of sleeping on it wrong.
I remember before green dishwashing liquid.
I remember a free shoehorn with new shoes.
I remember never using shoehorns.
Not convinced? Let me leave the final word with Paul Auster.
I Remember is a masterpiece. One by one, the so-called important books of our time will be forgotten, but Joe Brainard's modest little gem will endure. In simple, forthright, declarative sentences, he charts the map of the human soul and permanently alters the way we look at the world. I Remember is both uproariously funny and deeply moving. It is also one of the few totally original books I have ever read.
on December 23, 2012
I remember 'I Remember' coming out in fascicles - all right then, installments; I Remember, I Remember More, More I Remember More.
I remember paper chains.
I remember Hunt the Thimble.
I remember watching TV (The Grove Family Christmas special?) through a shopfront window.
I remember carol singers being sent packing and told to come back nearer Christmas Eve. Of course they never did.
I remember, as an only child, being allowed to pull all the crackers.
I remember McDonald Hobley's face twitching lasciviously as he sang a duet with Sylvia Peters. Or can he have been acting?
I remember the Christmas editions of the comics (tnere must have been a dozen to choose from if you hunted around) and what an exquisite sense of anticipation they radiated, for pennies. Not that pennies abounded.
Joe died, I remember
It's a game anyone can play, but it's Joe's game (though I'll allow his acolyte Georges Perec a little of the limelight) and it's Joe being Joe that makes it, but it does not represent all of him by any means any more than the limp Not Waving but Drowning sums up the sheer feistiness of Stevie Smith - and I'm not sure what Paul Auster brings to the mix; his qualified pronouncement that I Remember is one of the twenty best something-or-others is frankly risible unless he names the other nineteen - of which I'm sure one at least would be by him! Joe's *unique*, Paul, a one-off - think William Blake rather than a jobbing writer. This would make a nonpareil stocking filler, but your more discerning friends deserve Bean Spasms, newly reissued in facsimile, without the egregious, and superfluous, Auster. Twenty best?? Such magisterial vagueness, such dizzying condescension
on September 14, 2014
This book is a marvelous case of "Oh-come-on, I-could-have-done-that!". Sure, but you didn't.
Joe Brainard's childhood memories might have taken place in the 50's but they certainly feel like our own: losing a glove, skipping school, laying tissues on a public toilet seat, Christmas mornings, juiceboxes, heartbreaks... With his (re)collection of small, simple and even trivial things, the authors has effortlessly succeeded in a rather tricky task: creating something timeless and universal.
As he once said: "I feel like I am everybody."