Viva Loss, by Sara Fran Wisby, reviewed by Paul Corman-Roberts.
I have discovered, through a series of shoddily unscientific
experiments,-none of which would stand up to a reasoned
scrutiny by a qualified professional, but which are none-
the less extremely valuable to me-that the type of light man-
ifested in boys, while it can be trained, prefers to play.
From “Light Gains Intensity As It Is Approached”
There is a story told by guitar god Eric Clapton back in the late sixties about going to see an upstart blues sensation in a London club by the name of Hendrix. When Slowhand gets to the club, he is intercepted outside by a shell shocked Pete Townsend who informs Clapton that the both of them may as well take up selling door to door insurance. Clapton heads into the club for Hendrix’ second set an concludes that Townsend overestimated their prospects.
Sara Fran Wisby is one of a series of emerging talents (along with super prosers xtx and Mel Bosworth) who are starting to have this effect on the established war horses of the so called “underground” literary scene.
In the wake of diminishing attention spans & disintegrating dialectic it’s not unusual for the poet and/or prose writer to feel some angst about where their chosen mediums are headed.
Wisby’s recent publication from Small Desk Press, Viva Loss, is a Rosetta Stone of post-modern relationship politics, surrealism and Western mythology. Does all this sound too “over-the-top?” It’s not:
The stars are worse off. They’ve got to shine and shine and
shine. I’ve got pills and sleep and hope. They’re all alone,
the darkness pecking at them from all sides. I’ve got electric
lights, umbrella, a tea kettle, a CD player, an Electrolux
vaccum cleaner from the fifties.
Never underestimate the power of contraptions
From “Hope and What Army”
Go ahead, laugh at me for saying this, but Viva Loss not only points the way toward the future of prose poetry, but also for fiction and poetry itself. Keep laughing. I’m right.
…What if I resisted you, if in dying I achieved the sort of pride
that evaded me in life, what if I told you to go to hell, and take
your nursing skills elsewhere, and leave me to die in peace, and
what if you didn’t leave, and instead peeled the sheet gently back
from my body, and picked up a sponge and started washing me
with it, drenching the fiery hollows, murmuring to me in a low
strange voice you didn’t understand, had never heard before,
didn’t know you were capable of.
From “High Drama”
Wisby’s “tiny printed miracle” (Stephen Elliott & he’s right) is a work of transgression
that transcends the “confessional” ghetto; is a work of romance that transcends “Romance” and is a document of analogy, myth and surrealistic disassociation that transcends post-modernism.
The world’s tallest trees are underwater where gravity can’t
get to them. They reach for a greenish blob of light, the mythical
sun, which none have lived to see free of its wavering veil, for as
soon as they puncture the surface, they are painfully burned on
their uppermost new and tender leaves, and this kills them. It
The World Below
Viva Loss is a study in universal fragmentation. The book is presented in five parts: Parts I through IV and the “Addendum” (perhaps the crowning achievement of Wisby’s imagination here.) But really part IV, a series of listed and continuous prose pieces, sets up the “Addendum” or “glossary of (selected) terms, which in turn manage to unify the themes of this remarkable manuscript in the “final” list: femme couverte; finger; fuck; guilt, hardtack aka “sailor’s delight”, hegemony and homeopathy.
Forms of listing or segmenting are rife through the first three parts of the book as well though, but Wisby’s talent for the ringing line, more the signature of a poet, remains the cause this device she has chosen (wisely) serves. The end result is a series of modern fables, surrealist essays and dadaistic advice columns that come from a world we all recognize but cannot place, other than Wisby’s off the hook imagination.
The temptation here is to say that Viva Loss single- handedly renders language poetry a curious dinosaur (LangPo already was that) and opens up future generations to a slick, stripped down version of really good literature that will make for fun, easy and convenient multi-media packaging because it doesn’t require a huge attention span.
But because Wisby’s approach is that of the poetic, there is nothing simple or stripped down about this work, it simply appears that way, like a plump, non-threatening facebook quiz that clearly appeals to ones identified life choices. But the vision presented by the author here is whole and interconnected from piece to piece, and while a slick marketer might think it appropriate to add illustration to some of the more memorable images rendered (grotesque devils cavorting in the kitchen sink, a couple linked for life in a genital piercing circus act gone awry) the only image that matters is the cover…a torn up boxing glove, indicative of a fight that hasn’t always gone well, and also looking like its been abandoned in a desert hints at one of the main lessons in these pages:
When the desert is lost in you, it sends out flags to other deserts. Hard crusts
of dry skin form along your outer ridges. Your moisturizer fails. People start
to steer clear of you, afraid that you will “suck them dry.” Only other desert
people wander near, the ones who are further along than you. They wear their
deserts on the outside. Wrapped head to toe like mummies in baroque tatters,
moving their sandpaper lips in crass imitation of language. We know you,
they insist. We’re here for you.
Wisby’s piece “Dry” ends there, but leaves the reader with the dangling, implied fear that maybe those other desert people really just want to suck out your remaining moisture, but also leaving open the possibility that maybe that in itself is some kind of victory or at least, not undesirable. Wisby smartly exploits the beauty of uncertainty in poems or flash pieces or whatever you want to call them, that while perhaps as dislocated in “genre” as many of their landscapes are in “place,” they are, in and of themselves, very grounded in what is universally human and surely real.