Today's book of poetry:I Take Back the Sponge Cake. A Lyrical Choose-Your-Own-Adventure. Loren Erdrich & Sierra Nelson. Rose Metal Press. Brookline, MA. 2012.
I Take Back the Sponge Cake is a swim in a different lake than ones I usually lounge in. The tricks these two get up to will astonish you. It could feel like a gimmick if it weren't so perfectly charmingly rendered. At first I thought I would have to be very patient reading this book but as so often happens, I was wrong. As soon as you read the first poem you are HOOKED.
This book is a puzzle with almost unlimited solutions. This is interactive poetry without every being burdensome to the reader, you skip ahead with anticipatory delight, circle back and tell yourself a different story.
Erdrich and Nelson use very clever word play and choices made by the reader to navigate the terrain of I Take Back the Sponge Cake. It's tasty.
This is giddy play and adult fun—but I shouldn't mislead you. These aren't nursery rythmes, this isn't Walt Disney.
To explain, here is what the reader finds on page one:
To Use This Book:
Read each poem and image. Then choose which word you prefer from the given
pair, using the provided sentence as a guide, and flip to the appropriate page.
Continue the adventure. If you become lost, or would like to return somewhere
that you have already been, please refer to the map on page 52.
Idiot me, I forget to mention that this is an illustrated book. More on that to follow.
Here is the first poem:
You Will Go Back Again
We have seen your future, and it's all eyes,
you crazy head of bees.
Hurry, while they're still sleepy—
get out the gate.
Wait: to stay
_________, my heart is breaking.
If you choose wait, go to page 6.
If you choose weight, go to page 4.
Today's book of poetry chooses wait, and this is what ensues:
Your Eyes Are Closed But You Aren't Dreaming
You are traveling slowly,
like a great shipwreck still sailing.
Almost tenderly, the sun puts a hand to your forehead.
Yes, you think, I've been unwell. You sink into the feeling.
But the sun is blind and must touch everything:
always feeling its gold way forward towards the dark.
And there you have it. "always feeling its gold way forward towards the dark". Stunning line. This book is the sum of its' excellent parts. Very fine poetry wrapped up with the compelling art work of Loren Erdrich. She seems to hail from a land where Ralph Steadman, Gahan Wilson and Dr. Seus hold court, a marvelous comic darkness where there's always a little vinegar in the wine.
Sierra Nelson and Loren Erdrich shared the writing but there is no feel of a committee at work. These two work as one, the resulting I Take Back the Sponge Cake is that rare feat, it is unique.
A Dose of
Precisely these outward circumstances
could cause a heart to falter:
a lesson hard for humans.
Hide: to conceal
Unable to be everywhere, the gods ________________.
If you choose hide, go to page 38.
If you choose hied, go to page 32.
Today's book of poetry chooses hied:
For I Have Done More Delving
Into Death Than You
And for another thing.
I have taken
the fierce wood
with its long
throat cry given
I haven't seen this sort of collection before but I certainly hope to see more of this soon. For sheer inventive whimsy Erdrich and Nelson score big points here. I liked this book for its' wit and charm, I loved it for the poems.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Loren Erdrich is a mixed-media visual artist working primarily in drawing, sculpture, performance, and video. She has exhibited nationally and internationally, both individually and as part of CultureLab Collective. A 2011 show at the Joan Cole Mitte Gallery in Texas featured her work alongside that of Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Loren completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, receiving a BA and BFA respectively. She received her MFA in 2007 from the Burren College of Art and the National University of Ireland. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sierra Nelson's poems have appeared in Crazyhorse, Poetry Northwest, City Arts Magazine, Forklift Ohio, Painted Bride Quarterly, and DIAGRAM, among others. For over a decade she has collaboratively written and performed as co-founder of The Typing Explosion and the Vis-a-Vis Society, including at the 2003 Venice Biennale and on the Wave Books Poetry Bus Tour. She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Washington and is a MacDowell fellow. She currently lives in Seattle, Washington.
Sierra Nelson, 100 Thousand Poets for Change
Video courtesy of Richard Hugo House