Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the forthcoming novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013). A regular reviewer for Rain Taxi Review of Books, Dew is the author of Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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There’s an alluringly hardboiled quality to the start of this lovely little pamphlet. Our narrator is sifting through layers of memories in the hopes that he can “screw a cap on this thing I’ve been trying to write,” while simultaneously lamenting
I can’t, I cannot get my life onto paper. There’s something in the way, something between me and the words. It’s her, it’s all of them, and the way things ended and the way they never end, and everything I couldn’t admit, even to myself, and can’t even now.
Yes, some dame is to blame—wouldn’t it be pretty were that the case: “I was writing every morning, getting over to the gym, where the treadmills look out over the bay, and I said the only way I screw this up is if I start drinking again or I meet a woman.” But this isn’t a story about drinking, and this isn’t a story about women—not really. This is a story about death and its companion, writing, about words and time and love and people—how they fall apart, how their monuments remain, buildings dappled in the sunset or blues songs spinning under the stylus or prayers reread in the community that is solitude. “I could’ve stayed in that room in California reading, you know, The Little Flowers of St. Francis,” says the narrator, scratching not so much for sense but for a convenient façade. One could be forgiven for thinking it’s some private dick musing “you have your ideas about life and how to live it, but you want a little action, too.”
But this isn’t a pulp story, either; it is an intimate tale about death, told in layers of recognition and denial, twisting away from or closer to the core. The narrator’s father is dying in a nursing home in Cleveland, and the way this reality gets channeled onto the page can be frustrating at times, as the narrator thus stretches from certain concepts, ducks and weaves, takes refuge in platitudes, asks some questions in bad faith. There are a few moments of lag, some tired reflections on religion and religious art, pondering not of the infinite but of one corner of the frail human archive on it. Alpha, Omega, Etc. But you will forgive him these lapses because this is a chronicle of struggle, because here is a poet on a treadmill, pushing against inevitability and death, giving us force, effort, in the form of new, true words, Parma General, how “the sidewalks are full of children with beards,” or thoughts on Rembrandt’s etchings, or how music through headphones “cinematizes” the listener, which is what Liz Phair said, only it’s fresh again here.
There are those moments when you’ve come off the bridge and you’re tracing a gyre above the treetops with the river spread below and you have a moment to reflect on it all, before dropping into the chaos and immediacy of experience.
What could possibly matter more Creamsicle Blue asks, in the face of death, than the texture of light, its associative—and therefore achingly nostalgic—tone? Or those moments that shudder through you, the ineluctable urgency of wonder, desire, and the transitory now? In a place already defined by a thousand senses, “a beautiful young woman sits down alone with a notebook for a plate of scrambled eggs, a poet herself, or a fashion student, and anyway a reminder that New York is still a standing dream.” This might not be a new notion, but neither are those lyrics we live through and live by: “For two years, the only thought that’s given me any peace is a line from an old blues song. Someday, baby.” Not new, but ever new; not our words, but suddenly once heard forever ours, intimate and raw. Creamsicle Blue is like that, at once cinematizing life, infinite and throbbing, and showing us the veins beneath our skin, their fragile and temporary pulse.
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