Red Hen Press, 2016
I think what I admire most about Jessy Randall‘s new poetry collection Suicide Hotline Hold Music is how funny her poems are while still possessing the delicacy of the best lyrics. In this new collection, the most unique trait is her comic poems, visual poetry, like the two above (‘I Love You” made up of “fuck you” and ‘Fuck You’ made up of “I love you”). These visual poems are fun but aren’t satisfied being simple novelties.
Randall fits into a line of poets that have embraced and innovated with visual poetry. Most recently and perhaps most directly influencing Randall is Kenneth Koch’s The Art of the Possible. But there have been others most notably Kenneth Patchen, a pre-Beat poet if you will, and early 20th century French avant-garde poet Guillaume Apollinaire. Melding poetic language with drawing or painting isn’t new but it is still rarely explored. Even comic books/graphic novels don’t really attempt to meld the visuals of the two mediums.
So reading Randall’s collection feels fresh, playful and curious. Her non-visual poems are clever (not snide or snarky), coy, flirty, and earnest without being insipid. The same tone imbues her visual poems as they ground a solid joke on the surface while implying a curious subtext, like the poem below–
The poems of the collection seem to suggest a timeline, a movement from being a young adult to an adult. Randall writes some of the best mothering poems I’ve ever read. Her voice as a mother and a wife is entirely her own and neither her children nor her husband control that voice. She sings about her family while still keeping her self not beholden to them, undefined by them. Being a mother, being a wife doesn’t dictate to Randall’s poetic voice what she can or will say. Rather, these are just states she decided to inhabit and from which to write.
Marriage is humorous and endearing in its mundanities as seen in ‘Taxes’ where she writes about joking abut filling in the box for a deceased spouse or in ‘Husband’ which ends “Every time you scrap the ice / off the windshield, I’m yours.” or in ‘A Question’ where she daydreams about talking to her husband like he was a pet. Parenting occupies a similar place of grinding monotony and infinite, non-tangible reward. In ‘Love Poem for my Daughter’ there is an honest fury while ‘The Weight, The Heat of Love’ and ‘If You Are Ever Wondering’ are quick and playful in their tenderness. Yet, Randall avoids mindless braying about the wonders or gripes of parenting and marriage. Poets who do are roundly insufferable.
Two poems in particular show us how she celebrates is her own mutability. ‘I Have Never Gone Back to Normal’ is a lyric meditation on time embodied,
I Have Never Gone Back to Normal
after having children, but then,
I have to wonder, when exactly
was I normal? When
did everything change? Pregnant,
not normal. Newly married, no.
Waking up in Philadelphia in tears,
that wasn’t normal. Though
I did get use to it. On Saturdays,
waling and walking and walking
from one library to another,
how can that
now seem normal?
while ‘How My Anatomy Has Changed’ may seem like some kind of resignation verse to the dismissive but is actually an affirmation of being comfortable in ones constantly changing skin,
I no longer mind if you have other friends.
I don’t need to convince you of everything.
You are a new kind of necessity–
less necessary but more important.
We are now the supervisors. My anatomy
has changed, drastically, but it’s still
me in here.
The attitudes in these poems dovetails nicely in ‘Pool Rules,’ where Randall seems to delineate a rather well-balanced ‘adulting,’
No smoking. No horseplay. There will be
no stealing of your best friend’s boyfriend.
No nose-picking. Say please. In sexual matters,
be generous, but do not think of it that way.
No watch-wearing. No digital clocks. No
t-shirts with sayings on them. Spell ketchup
with a k. Do not drink to excess. If you must
read a book in the bathtub, be careful. Turn off
cell phones unless you enjoy subtle disdain.
No float-toys, no running, no communicable diseases.
People wearing cut-offs will be asked to leave.
No high-pitched squealing from those over two
years of age. Obey fire codes. If you can’t sleep, turn off
the air conditioner, it might help. Cut sandwiches
into rectangles or triangles, either one. Shower first.
Randall’s poetry is witty and accessible, yet loses no thoughtful rigor or intimacy. I enjoyed this collection immensely as it sparked a certain jealousy in me as well as wonder. On my best day, I wish I was as casually funny as these poems read. Randall is turning into a profoundly good lyric poet who, because she has shed pretense as well as dilettantism, may be one of the best currently writing.
Here are a few of Randall’s poems as read by me:
“A Different Kind of Stupid”
“Dreams I have had about Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer”
“The Weight, The Heat of Love”
“If You Are Ever Wondering”
Jessy Randall’s poems, poetry comics, diagram poems, and other things have appeared in Asimov’s, McSweeney’s, Rattle, and The Best American Experimental Writing 2015. Her first collection, A Day in Boyland (Ghost Road Pres, 2007), was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award; a poem from her second collection, Injecting Dreams into Cows (Red Hen Press, 2012), was featured on a street-cleaning truck at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. She is the Curator of Special Collections at Colorado College, where she teaches a course in the history and future of reading.
If you liked this article, then consider supporting me via my Patreon site. Even a small pledge helps.