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April 13, 2010

The Laundromat Essay by Kyle Buckley

Does poetry have the same male/female divide that fiction may or may not have (and how you feel about this depends how you feel about ghettos)? Can I also confess here that I’ve not approached any male poets to take part in Poetic April because I’m afraid of male poets? In the blogosphere at least, male poets always seem to be having public feuds whose origins I can never decipher, but it’s usually something theoretical. And maybe it’s just the poets I gravitate to who, like most writers I gravitate to, are usually female, but their work is largely accessible in a way that Kyle Buckley’s (or Michael Lista’s too) is not. This is all just a sweeping generalization based upon a tiny sample group, but I will be expanding the sample group over the next few weeks and I’ll see how it goes. (I’m also going to be reading Erín Moure soon, which I expect will change my mind about everything).

Anyway, my way of access into Kyle Buckley’s The Laundromat Essay was by having heard him read last year as part of the Pivot series, and his work was so fresh, jarring, funny and absurd that I bought the book. Reading the book, however, did not come with the same ease that listening to it had. The work is still fresh, jarring, funny and absurd, but it’s hard. The key, I think, is to read as you would listen– pay attention to the sounds of the words, let the poems float over you, to let the atoms fall where they may. Like any poet, Buckley paints a picture, but his is abstract, its meaning subject to interpretation, and neither meaning nor interpretation is really quite the point (so perhaps I should stop trying to wrap my head around the idea of a book as “a blindfolded staircase”).

But in a way, wrapping my head aroud that idea is the point, that Buckley uses imagery and language in ways that challenge expectations. That the imagery and language aren’t more than the sum of their parts, or rather than they needn’t be. Here is a surface worth skimming for a long while before contemplating what’s going on underneath it, and in places (I think?) the surface might just be impenetrable. It put me in mind of John Ashbery meets Samuel Beckett.

The work itself is not impenetrable though. Buckley’s book is built around a narrative essay about a young man arguing for after-hours access to the laundromat to fetch his clothes. The laundromat owner is more interested in the whereabouts of his son, who is called Hoopy. Their conversation goes in circles, and the young man is recounting all of this to the person he is waiting for, the person he requires clothes for. His narrative is footnoted by references to poetic fragments that go some way toward illuminating his situation. “By this point, I very nearly love you. Which means that I love you with, I don’t know, all of the intensity of a thousand brilliant suburban porch lights.” And some times the fragmants don’t illuminate much at all, but the recurring words and ideas serve to drive the work forward, and I’m fasinated, however baffled.

And just writing all this here has been somewhat terrifying, because I don’t really understand what Buckley is up to, and I probably don’t understand many of the references that would explain it. It is intimidating to write about something that seems so beyond me, but I’ve written anyway (ever careful to profess no authority) because this is a book worth writing about (as it’s worth reading, and worthy of discussion). Poetry really does need to be brought into the wider world, which is from where (the reading) I found this book in the first place, and now that I’ve read it, I am very glad I did.

7 thoughts on “The Laundromat Essay by Kyle Buckley”

  1. patricia says:

    Interesting. I looked at this post and thought to myself, “Where have I heard of this title before?” And then I remembered, I’d chatted with Mr. Buckley at a Type book launch this past weekend, and he told me about his book. I doubt that I would be able to understand his poetry, but I must say that the cover is lovely.

    1. Kerry says:

      But I think understanding is not necessarily the point– the point is the language itself and there is a whole level of apprecation there. And it IS a lovely book, but it is a Coach House Book after all!

      Aside: I think it’s interesting that poetry like this with aesthetic concerns is so often set up against more narrative-driven works, as though they’re both competing for the same position, but they’re such different creatures. (This is the same with fiction). That there is not just one thing called poetry (and poetry is better for that).

  2. Gillian says:

    great post. I’m glad you’re writing about writing about poetry and reading it and going for it even if sometimes wary of the men. it bugs me that we have to wait for one particular month of the year to talk about poetry, but I’ll take it! I was thinking of poetry-(what’s a nice word for bombing?) my workplace bulletin boards with poems from that’s something, isn’t it?
    thanks for writing. period.

    1. Kerry says:

      Hi Gillian, I just saw your comment now. I promise to talk more about poetry all year round, but it’s also nice to take some time out just for it. And speaking of poems, I just read yours in the last The New Quarterly!

  3. Julia says:

    PS: if you’re looking for an awesome ESSAY about laundry/laundromats, try Maureen Stanton’s “Laundry”
    (the title of your post made me think of this, and I always like to convert more people to Maureen’s awesome writing!)

    1. Kerry says:

      Thanks, Julia. I can’t say I’ve been actively seeking an essay about laundromats, but I will check this out. And now I’m thinking about literary laundry, and maybe there’s a post in the works.

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