On August 3rd at 7 pm, Future Tense is staging a reading at Colonel Summers Park featuring three west coast writers: LA's Amelia Gray, Seattle's Matthew Simmons, and our own James Gendron. Outdoor readings in public places are a blast - especially when they're free and feature great local talent like Gendron.
I recently picked up Gendron's Sexual Boats (Sex Boats) (Octopus Books) at Backtalk on Mississippi, where the unexpected book corner is somewhat small - like the presses represented there - but carefully curated and consciously displayed. I got it on a recommendation from a friend, who gushed about Gendron's absurdity, sense of humor, strange excitement, and staying power.
It is tough to pull off meaningful absurdity that's funny and lasts. But even the title of the book is funny in a needling, then burrowing sort of way. You laugh, you look at it again, you think about it, you say it out loud to yourself, it pops into your head later, and eventually, you start saying "That's funny" instead of laughing, which makes you think about it in a new way.
The inside of the book has a similar effect. There are lines in these poems that I at first thought were just funny - really laugh-out-loud hilarious, but maybe somewhat one-dimensional. And yet, they've stuck with me for days and weeks. Sex Boats includes a series called "Money Poems," which is full of short, jabbing poems that flit from cutting satire to punchy one-liners, but are mostly caught somewhere outside those bounds, so that this beautiful page:
Air is finely ground money.
Spontaneous fortunes gather in the sky.
The sky is speckled with motionless
can be followed by this one:
Money has many layers
like the layers of the monion.
The rest of the poems range from relatively grounded or even personal poems to airy absurdities; poems that are basically the setup to a pun to poems that are just the pun. Then there are the recurring poems all titled "Sex Boat," which are almost universally not directly about sex or boats.
My favorite section of the book is a series of ten poems called "French Cinema." Each poem is one line longer than the last, and describes a hypothetical French film. In typical Gendron fashion, they veer from obvious parody to strangely poignant and feasible concepts. Also in typical Gendron fashion, they feature a sort of calmly madcap wordplay - tricks of language that aren't even puns, just great new turns of phrase like "sighs thick with dogsmoke."
Sometimes Gendron's inscrutability baffles me, and maybe I'm over- or underthinking it. But in general, I just can't stop thinking it: Gendron's mental language inhabits your own, because it's so close to the raw, naked, hilarious way thoughts arrive. This book is chiefly youthful - maybe even childish - in its curiosity, fascinated and amused by its own thought process and laughing at its own profundity. It's fun, but deep fun, and it's going to be a blast to hear Gendron read.