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Pickle Me This

April 16, 2008

The Myth of the Simple Machines by Laurel Snyder

When I say that Laurel Snyder’s collection The Myth of the Simple Machines is accessible, I mean that I read the collection and encountered actual pathways down deep into the heart of the message: sometimes literal (as in the line from “Glass”, “Like it or not, this is for you/ so pay attention”) or else constructed from my own experience, my personal connection (“I Covet Everything I Own”). These poems do not put up blocks; the language is ordinary, the images familiar, and I felt comfortable enough to venture inside them. Their simplicity lulling, assuring, but then look– simple is a myth after all. One probably should have known.

That these simple machines would do much more than they appear to. The ordinary language is arranged in extraordinary ways, syntax twisted to catch on, wordplay belying horror, images arranged with every element in its place and things are not what they seem, nor will they stay that way. The seesaw illustration on the cover absolutely fitting, tilting back and forth with every line– hanging on “only”, “despite”, “but”, “and then…” and even when these conjunctions are not present, we sense the same weighing effect.

I got a real sense of narrative as the collection progressed, a coming of age. In the beginning we have “The Girl” and she is small, and she is figuring out how the world works, stumbling and falling. But she’s a clever girl, we’re told– she is both everywhere and elusive, and she is figuring out, using her “simplest solutions”. Enough to have her own voice, her own “I”, examining herself in relation to the rest of the world, conscious of her constructions. Soon pulling away from herself to see the world as it is, in all its complexities and configurations. She has wised up, lessons learned– she keeps her “Triptych(s) of Useful Rules” and she’ll pass them along. But she hasn’t stopped dreaming. The Girl slips like a fish, and I choose to believe that she is happy she is happy she is happy. In sugar or otherwise.

From “Triptych of Useful Rules (Words)”:
1) You’ll know it when you see it. 2) Anything that lasts longer than it needs to, sentence, look, hand on shoulder. 3) I mean to say, it lingers. I mean both things.

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