Jane Cassady is Slam Mistress of the Philadelphia Poetry Slam, and the word-swarm tactics of such performance art get used here, as when Cassady recites a wild list of terms to get at what is so particular and loveable about a lover’s face (“smiling painted dolphin hating, sunset/ pausing… paint splotch flower bordering… fake stream landscaping, cala-lily harboring,/ artichoke thistle vilifying, armpit sweating, seashell collecting…”), but this scatter-shot of happenstance things and fragmentary narratives feels less like a reflex of style and more like an honest gesture toward articulating the manifold and baffling charms of the world. It is in this—the attempt to somehow put words to the allure of “a work crush” as well as the “wavy glass of the Continental Congress” and the horrifying yet wonderfully strange “pool of blood/ on the car roof” after a crash with an ambulance, that distinguishes this slim, sweet chapbook. The poem “Dear Philadelphia,” for instance, conveys the confession “I’m embarrassed that it took me/ so long to love you… your openhearted narrow streets, trolley-tracked arterials from one room/ of lightning-crack hearts to the next.” In the lovely “Or Just the Cost of Caring for Cats,” a flea infestation—“a tiny autumn of fleas,/ a sprinkling”—inspires larger reflections:
One crawled through your hair
like a lazy Surrealist
while you smiled at me from your pillow.
One hopped across my Entertainment Weekly.
The vacuum bags are on the porch to freeze them,
but they can lie dormant for years.
Is this the thing that’s been hunting us forever,
our debt taken in small nicks and irritation,
a bouquet of apologies
in a circle of bites?
She might claim, in one title, that “Beyoncé is Better at Having Feelings than I Am,” (8) a cue that she’s about to appropriate lyrics (as she also does from Lady Gaga) to craft her own cut-up poem, but Cassady isn’t writing pop fare, drawing on standard tropes; rather, she’s wrestling through the random flotsam of reality. “Songs about snooze alarms” are more her speed. As she makes clear in the fun final poem of the collection, Scrabble is a useful metaphor for her approach to the world and being a poet in it. She may lament “this spittle of vowels” plucked from the bag, but she strives to go on and “spell ‘is’ and ‘id’ at once.”