Lauren Ireland - Throughout the book, Ireland balances concerns with mortality, sadness, and other philosophical concepts with the celebration of hip-hop slang, poetic language, and irreverent juxtaposition. At her best, Ireland is able to draw on both snarky humor and genuine pathos at the same time;
Lauren Ireland, Dear Lil Wayne, Magic Helicopter Press, 2014.
EXCERPTS:July 14 and July 18 2010 in NOÖ JournalApril 1 2011 in PaperOctober 13 2010 in Flavorwire
Bawling and ballsy, these postcard poems by Lauren Ireland can see Rikers from their fire escape. They want to go down in history as a secret horror. Lil Wayne: they like your new muscles. Everybody else: you know how even leaving a place you hate is sad? These poems report the sugar-flavored blood like almost everyone is lonely, almost no one's amazing, confessing to Weezy that all spirit animals are bullshit and theirs is a giant knife.
Dear Lil Wayne,
I have hot ideas. I’m all in. This week I had a scary dream. Furst woke me up and told me everything is okay. Everything is. Everyone’s winning at Uno. Everyone’s in love. I am high on drugs and also on being a person. There is such a thing as hot tracks. I have heard you lay them, in other dreams. Lil Wayne, I like your new muscles. I like not being dead. Don’t you? I’m not afraid. — Lauren Ireland (yes, this book just blurbed itself)
Although the epistolary poem has been around since the Roman Empire, it has taken a new turn with the advent of social media. Nowadays, the subjects of letters are much easier to reach; poets don’t need to be as hypothetical in communication. If we like Kevin Bacon’s performance in last night’s episode of The Following, we can tweet him to let him know, and he might actually read and retweet our message to show how much he cares. That said, if we tweet him to say, “Nice Prada shirt you’re wearing right now,” things might get uncomfortable.
In Dear Lil Wayne, Lauren Ireland explores this line where one’s desire to connect through letters can go beyond the comfort zone of the recipient. The book contains a series of letters dated July 2010 to April 2011, which, the speaker writes, “I sent … to Lil Wayne during and after his incarceration. He never wrote back.” Whether or not anyone actually sent the letters is beside the point; readers will get the sense of connectedness mixed with humor mixed with potential non sequitur mixed with overreaching, anyway.
At times, Ireland seems to be poking fun at the limitations of the letter while simultaneously reflecting on the inherent loneliness of a one-sided conversation. A prime example of this coupling can be found in the poem “July 29 2010”:
I wish I was basically made of fists. I wish I was dazzling and tough. I think I might be unlucky in love. Do you hate everything that isn’t on the inside? I know exactly what you mean.
Throughout the book, Ireland balances concerns with mortality, sadness, and other philosophical concepts with the celebration of hip-hop slang, poetic language, and irreverent juxtaposition. At her best, Ireland is able to draw on both snarky humor and genuine pathos at the same time; the humor eases the pain that surrounds it. The poem “February 24 2011” encapsulates a sense of isolation and desperation, but Ireland interrupts the emotional weight with amusing references to Lil Wayne lyrics, which, to the uninitiated, might appear to be non sequiturs:
Dear Lil Wayne,
Do you ever wish you could just die? I’m not saying this because I do; I’m saying this because I do. Sameness is terrifying. Everything startles me. I put my phone on vibrate. I avoid the racetrack. Last night, Max made me listen to a young rapper spitting codeine and blood. I wonder why young people aren’t more sad. I wonder why I give up. I think you’re right—I’m going to fly. I’m going to go totally hard, just like you said. I have to be honest with you, though: I’ve never seen a geese erection.
By gleaning an array of elements from the Lil Wayne lexicon, Ireland seems to be laughing at the rapper’s lyrics at times—or, more specifically, laughing at how they appear outside their intended context—but primarily basking in their absurdist appeal. Surely fans of Lil Wayne will find a lot to enjoy about this book, but the main audience for Dear Lil Wayne should include people who are interested in how non-celebrities believe it’s appropriate to write themselves into celebrities’ stories, and how these non-celebrities struggle to get their letters answered. - Daniel M. Shapiro
“There was some sadness, a tornado, some gladness”Part whimsy, part pure love, part little kid writing to their hero, the meat of Ireland’s poems in Dear Lil Wayne are both new and familiar.
The book’s body of prose blocks and superficially random lines remind the reader of Hejinian’s philosophy on collage – the sentence as poem and movement in a poem as something that should be difficult to nail down. After each block / piece / letter, the reader is left with an earned emotion, generated and constructed from the parts provided. To say that the reader’s emotion is earned also means that few emotions are directly addressed; they accumulate. Over the course of the book, they become greater than the sum of their parts. For example, here’s the entirety of “August 7 2010”:
The universe becomes a fist and then we die. Okay. Naked under Perseids, big deal, the rip. Nothing anyone says matters anyway so just fucking say it. Bats, ocean, cessation of time. Okay, we love each other. Now what.
Throughout the book there is a pushing forward, and it’s not just the dates above each piece nor the simple fact that a sequence is happening. As the poems develop, the reader gets to know this letter-writer and her (assumingly) weird relationship with an unresponsive star. Bad things happen, guilt is admitted, feelings are unearthed:
“44 days. Not much has changed. There was some sadness, a tornado, some gladness” (“September 20 2010”).
“Running fast makes clouds. Was that fire? Yesterday I fell. I fell like this and my body looked just like this” (“July 15 2010”).
Undeniably, though, through whatever thick fog of analysis one can summon, these poems are funny and sharp and pretty. The goofiness in their abstract premise is absolutely not something that leads to a lack of effectiveness or soul, of real feeling or polish. If anything, the desperation of fan mail opens Ireland up to be as raw as the felt connection between a star and a stranger fully invested in someone they do not know at all. To quote from “July 29 2010 (10:01 pm),” “Remember how wet sidewalks smell? I want to feel like that again. So I am listening to music.”
Regardless of the book’s context, the poems are very much concerned with being striking and immediate. Each poem remains strong, relevant and independent. Some pieces, certainly, are much more focused on creating an effect than actually playing up the activity / game of writing to Lil Wayne. Less confessional, maybe, Ireland offers true attempts at connection, with lines like :
Were you very alone? I think about what I would do in a small room by myself: not very much. I guess I would think and sleep, maybe masturbate, maybe cry, probably both. I guess you wrote a lot. I guess you were basically being incredible. You wouldn’t understand, but it’s hard to be boring in a fascinating world.
These lines, the handful of times they raise their collective head, are moving in their static deadness. They are little orphan feelings borne from the honest heart of this silly letter-writer, and damn if we don’t know how that feels. But maybe the extensive and conscientious avoidance points the reader to the main argument behind these poems: connecting and sharing emotionally is tough, if not impossible. Especially artist-to-artist. Or at least this poet artist to this rap artist, at least Ireland to Wayne. It’s so tempting and inviting to identify with or admire or want deeply to connect with celebrity figures, especially the artists who elicit so much from us. However, those attempts at connection are just that, attempts and unfulfilled expectations. Ireland’s Dear Lil Wayne is shining a beautiful bright light on that broken relationship we all secretly or loudly desire.— CJ Opperthauser
1. Immediately I am reminded of Joe Wenderoth’s Letters to Wendy’s. The cover to his book and Dear Lil Wayne even kind of look the same.
3. The dedication of the book goes to Lil Wayne, but below that another dedication/statement reads: “hip hop, you saved my life.” I think this is particularly poignant. Sometimes when bands are interviewed they’ll say something like, “We get letters from fans telling us that this song/album helped them through a hard time.” The project of this book is proof of the kind of power music can have and I totally relate and understand, as I’m sure many other readers probably can, too.
4. The book has a type of preface in which Ireland gives us some information about Lil Wayne, primarily concerning his incarceration. This preface ends: “I sent these letters to Lil Wayne during and after his incarceration. He never wrote back.” There’s an almost even split of letters written while Lil Wayne was in jail and after he was released.
5. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Dear Lil Wayne is a form of hero worship, but rather an incarnation of the advice, “write about your obsessions.”
6. And in this writing through obsession, Ireland weaves together the comic and tragic for very memorable poems.
7. For example, “September 17 2010”:
Dear Lil Wayne,
Jason and Furst say they get fear boners. Do you? Probably not. Jason says there’s like a Nicaraguan death squad after his dick. Does this mean boys are just as scared as girls? All this time I was sure it was a joke when a boy liked me. In these cases, I don’t get fear boners. I just feel kind of bad.
8. From the first sentence this poem is engaging. The following “Do you?” and “Does this mean boys are just as scared as girls?” maintains a move that appears throughout the book: Ireland is almost always asking Lil Wayne questions in her letters.
9. “September 21 2010” begins, “Do people think you are funny when you are actually really sad?”
10. “November 5 2010” (the day after Lil Wayne’s release) begins, “Do you feel different yet?”
11. “April 10 2011” begins, “Have you ever touched something so painful, you can’t tell whether it’s hot or cold?”
12. These questions, and others throughout the book, provide moments where I really empathize with Ireland. Because even those these poems are addressed to Lil Wayne, the questions Ireland asks are not really questions for him. They are questions the speaker asks herself.
13. And one of the big questions that’s threaded throughout the book is, I think, how does one be “grown-up?”
14. This question comes up most clearly in “September 2 2010”:
Dear Lil Wayne,
One day I will have to be a full grownup, paying taxes on time and shit. Do you know how hard that is? I just want a bus and all the time in the world. Beer tastes so amazing when I skip work for no reason.
15. Other examples that display this youthfulness in opposition to growing up pop up throughout the book. In “January 7 2011”: “I’m like sweating tequila. It’s 4PM and I am lonely and in love and thinking of the time I almost drowned in a lake in Knoxville, Tennessee. No one is ever going to be this happy, ever again.”
16. In “August 24 2010”: “Lately I have been sleepy thuggin over the lazy blankets. What makes pain? Stupid. In 8 million years everyone will be dead. At least I hope. That’ll teach them.”
17. In “April 20 2011”: “Lately, whiskey makes me feel better, all over my parts.”
18. I think all of these examples, and there are many others in the book, show Ireland’s speaker having an internal struggle, of being between the world of adult and the world of technically adult.
19. And this struggle is the heart of Dear Lil Wayne. It’s the second part of the American coming-of-age story. The Catcher in the Rye and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, those are part one. No one in high school reads books about part two. Dear Lil Wayne is part two.
20. And so what’s a reader left with at the end? Ireland leaves us on unstable ground. Some progress is made, but there’s not exactly a happy ending.
21. The one-way correspondence with Lil Wayne ends on April 23, 2011. And the tone of this poem quickly establishes that it’s the end: “Promise me you’ll never get too big for your bitches.” Ireland’s speaker is moving on.
22. Lil Wayne’s music has transformed by the end of the book: “When I’m listening to you, all I can hear is a warm intelligent hum.” The music is no longer defined by certain beats or lyrics. For Ireland’s speaker, it’s something that’s not even hip hop anymore, but is still positive.
23. The last two sentences of “April 23 2011” are what leaves me uncertain: “You are going to be okay. I mean, that’s what we’re supposed to tell each other.”
24. OOF. These last sentences slay. They reflect perfectly the situation that Ireland’s speaker, and I think many twenty and thirtysomethings, feel today. No one is really worried about Lil Wayne here, it is Ireland’s speaker whom the reader hopes is okay. It’s the reader him/herself that says these lines aloud and to friends. But the truth is we don’t know and that’s why this last poem in Dear Lil Wayne has such bite.
25. This last point would be some Lil Wayne lyrics that encapsulate the experience of reading Dear Lil Wayne, but I don’t really know any, sorry.
"No one is really worried about Lil Wayne here, it is Ireland’s speaker whom the reader hopes is okay. It’s the reader him/herself that says these lines aloud and to friends." — Nate Logan
Joe Wenderoth’s Letters to Wendy’s celebrated its tenth anniversary this year. Sad to say, the book has not aged as gracefully as I had hoped. Every time I bring out a few selections from Letters to Wendy’s, my Intro. to Lit. students alternately roll their eyes or stare blankly at the overhead projector. In all likelihood they are overwhelmed by poetry in general—especially absurdist prose poetry about fast food—and Wenderoth’s epistolary book is hyper-graphic, too. However, I’m also sure that many have never even seen a comment card before and thus fail to understand the overarching conceit of the project.
Perhaps Lauren Ireland’s epistolary poetry collection Dear Lil Wayne is the Letters to Wendy’s of this decade. The book design even echoes Wenderoth’s, but instead of Wenderoth’s lonely, over-drugged, sexually-repressed man, Lauren Ireland depicts a lonely, oversexed woman in these letters to the incarcerated rapper Lil Wayne. “I wonder if I’m doing the right thing,” Ireland writes to Tunci. “Do you? All the haters, talking shit about us. Sometimes I listen to them, which I realize is a bitch move.”
At the beginning of the collection, the poet claims to have actually mailed all of the collected letters, individually, to Mr. Carter during and following his imprisonment. She reports that he never replied, and this is deeply satisfying given the wide range of disturbing and revelatory content of her letters. It’s fun to imagine him reading these messages, alternately horrified and titillated, as many readers of the now-published collection will certainly be. This is confessional poetry for the millennial generation.
For Ireland, celebrity is a stand-in for the divine, as in her letter from July 15th: “Dear Lil Wayne, … Oh Lord Jesus, the terrific lightning over the avenues. Over all the avenues and I was scared. Are you? Tell me what to do with these feelings.” This correlation between talent and fame and the divine is especially present in the rap game. Wayne even called himself a god at a New Year’s Eve DJ set in Miami back in 2012. Why not conflate Lil Wayne to a god-like status—at least for the next decade–before he becomes replaced by the next bastion of social institutions? - Quincy Rhodes
Lauren Ireland’s Dear Lil Wayne is about a lot of things: love and loneliness, fear and sadness. Obsession. Desire. Futility. Prison. Islands. Wanting to be a “rapper’s girlfriend.” Booze and drugs.
But mainly it’s about unrequitedness—of the fan to the celebrity, the poet to the reader and, implicitly, the lover to her object of affection/desire/obsession. In this respect it follows a long poetic tradition. Poets such as Yeats and his poems to Maude Gunn come to mind.
These poems are also epistles, in form and literally (Ireland sent postcards with these poems on them to Lil Wayne for the 8 months he was in prison on Riker’s Island–he never wrote back). Contemporarily, they are much in the vein of Joe Wenderoth’s Letters to Wendy’s. As an aside: it’s interesting to note how the “death” of letter writing has been lamented in the wake of email but is very much alive in poetry.*
But back to Ireland and Wayne. What I think I love most is how Ireland takes all these different emotions and weaves them together. On one page will be a Gaston Bachelard quote about how “The great function of poetry is to give us back the situations of our dreams.” But a couple pages later will be these lines: “Fuck that noise. Every place is a place where someone died once. The morgue of your dreams.”
In other words, sure, you can have your dreams back, but they’ll very likely be dead, entombed in “the economy mourning, the park, the potter’s field in the kitchen.”
Also prison, where Lil Wayne is, is a kind of tomb. And an island (Riker’s), where he also was in solitary confinement. The houses and offices and island (Manhattan) Ireland writes from are tombs of a sort. Isolation is everywhere.
And uncertainty. Just look at how many times the word “guess"—a sign of uncertainty, but in some respects also giving up like when someone’s hounding you about something and your only possible reply is "I guess:” “I guess I am lots of things’ bitch. I guess I’m just guessing forever.”
There’s also a bit of putting the beloved/Lil Wayne on a pedestal and asking him to perform magical things. Being sure that “everything mystical spring from [Lil Wayne’s] head.” Asking him to “please give me back my time.” Donne did this often in his love poems to his wife by making her basically a stand-in for god, or at least a woman as holy as the Virgin (but also Mary Magdalene in that in his poems he and Anne More had just fucked or he was thinking about how much he wanted to fuck her, how good and holy their fucking was).
But then there’s also the realization that there’s “so much mystical bullshit,” the reality of love, taking the beloved off the pedestal and being like, what the fuck!?: “Okay, we love each other. Now what.”
If there’s one thing that is certain, it’s the feeling that, in the end, despite everything, no one really cares. None of it matters. “Lil Wayne, I have seen the face of god in the bathroom at Milady’s. He doesn’t care, either."
I mean, if you take the line seriously no one cares. If not, it’s funny and people can still care, things can still matter. If you take it seriously but also don’t, it’s funny and sad. People care, kind of. Things matter, maybe.
*The Self Help Poems book from The First 4 Books of Sampson Starkweather is a whole book of epistles that were actual emails back and forth between him and a friend, email epistolary poems, if you will. — Justin Marks
"Cheese fries, roller skating, dollar drafts, bad drugs, and of course Lil Wayne serve a higher purpose: the unraveling of our darkest moments. And never confined by realism, the poems veer easily into the territory of the mystical, the deep past, the fantastic." — Molly Dorozenski
"There are certain excerpts from this series of letters that are so hilariously bizarre they will make you laugh out loud. Dear Lil Wayne is a must-read for anyone in search of a fun and amusing book." — Malvern Books
"The deftness of Ireland’s words strikes a chord—her short letters may not hit their target audience (Weezy), but they sure hit home for readers. Though [Dear Lil Wayne] is painfully lonely at times, it spurs an instantaneous sense of belonging at its high points." — Kimberly Whitmer
Lauren Ireland, The Arrow, Coconut Books, 2014.
"It took almost a lifetime's worth of emotions to read Lauren Ireland's THE ARROW. She says Time eats at the edges of things so we hear her say other things, too, I am hating you from very far away and I am a grownup/flying right into the mouth of fear. This book is fraught with emotional emergencies, sometimes reckless, almost a little demented as one has to be when one faces who and what and where and how we are. Lucky for Ireland there are friends to whom many of these poems are dedicated who accompany her as she's permanently lost in this very very mysterious flight we all share."—Dara Wier
"Lauren Ireland doesn't shrink from the biggies—death and obsession, melancholia and doing it in the graveyard. She dies and dies again, with magnificent repetition and in all the different colors that the human heart comes in. In the drained sea, a dangerously low mood, the world where being alive is no longer possible, Ireland is your best friend. This book is both a love letter and an obituary to having a goddamn human experience."—Melissa Broder
"Wherever THE ARROW lands is the bullseye and everything else can go fuck itself. Poison tipped and true with feathers stolen from some dope's dream catcher it's the weaponized vehicle of choice for anyone with putzy exes making a winter of every season—and for a great love that better be out there because, even though THE ARROW has the force to fly forever, it came from cupid's quiver after all. How can Lauren be so sincere and so sarcastic, like a cutter cutting airquotes in her arm? It's like if love won't tear us apart, it'll tear us a new one.—Brendan Lorber & Tracey McTague
“I am not saying anything that bad. / My wrist hurts from masturbating. / The dirty window can keep my goddamned face” are the concluding lines of Lauren Ireland’s “Special,” included in her debut full length collection The Arrow. And emotions and sentiments of the above variety are indicative of the work in the collection as a whole—as such, Ireland’s poetry is largely aimed to prod and provoke. She doesn’t write to please some imaginary reader, nor does she write to invoke some imaginary muse. She isn’t much concerned with notions of “tenure-track” or “conceptual” or “metamodern.” Instead, she writes to expose the tensions of modern day 21st century American life—and, fickle and immense, there are a lot of them.
Reading through The Arrow one of first noticeable things is the amount of dedications the book contains; 22 of them are included, many of them to the same person in multiple poems. (A good guess is that Molly Dorozenski and Lauren Ireland are close friends.) On the face of it this, then, doesn’t amount to much, and yet thinking through/into these dedications one gets the sense that Ireland is poetically invested in people as much as language. Her poems thus employ the second person “you” fairly often, a “you” that, due to the work’s dedicatory nature, is very rarely the same “you” as the reader. Reading The Arrow front-to-back the immediate temptation is to find this element both problematic and insular; why go to the trouble of publishing a book of poetry with a national press if you can simply send the poem/poems to the person/persons you’re writing them specifically for? And yet rereading the collection—and mulling over the “you” in both the dedicated and undedicated pieces— one is forced to entertain a different insight, namely that Ireland’s personal poetics are, circa 2014, subtly revelatory. It little matters if, while reading The Arrow, one knows or cares to know the aforementioned Dorozenski (10 dedications) or Scott Larner (3 dedications) or Leigh Stein (2 dedications) or various members of the Ireland family (various dedications). In each of the poems dedicated to them they are mere stand-ins for Ireland’s speaker, one that is both combative and contrary. “You are going to remember how cold preserves memory,” Ireland writes in “There Was This One Great Day & It Already Happened” (Larner dedication); in the Dorozenski-dedicated “Satan’s School For Girls,” she asserts:
I was like I hope you die You were like killing them.
I think your power comes from your great beauty
& too much thinking. I think my power comes from
your mouth. Driving fast over snowy hills I am
wishing for you. Defacing textbooks writing your names.
I’m braiding your hair & mine so you can never leave me
The “you” in this poem might be, in Ireland’s speaker’s mind, directly influenced by Dorozenski, but for everyone else it’s a “you” that defines the “I” of the poem in far greater detail. “Satan’s School For Girls” speaker believes that “my power comes from/ your mouth,” insists that, via, “Defacing textbooks writing your names,” “I am wishing for you.” Ireland’s “you” is Jeffrey Eugenides’ “we” in The Virgin Suicides, is (to a degree at least) Jay McInerney’s “you” in Bright Lights, Big City. It’s a personal pronoun usage that—although directed away from its speaker, at or to someone else—is truly personal while at the same time being voluminous, expansive. “I am large, I contain multitudes,” Walt Whitman writes in “Song of Myself.” “You know, / you are never alone—I don’t mean that/in a kindly way,” Lauren Ireland writes in “Cats.” The comparison is hyperbolic, sure, but Ireland’s own set of multitudes is one that is less self-referential or self-absorbed than a thousand other contemporary American poets. She writes for others as a way of writing for herself as a way of writing for somebody—anybody—else.
The work in The Arrow certainly has predecessors—contemporarily, Chelsey Minnis and Tina Brown Celona immediately come to mind, as does, drifting a bit further back, early work/collections by Heather McHugh and Bill Knott, even Ed Dorn. Ireland is the type of poet that begins a poem entitled “American Poetry” with the declaration “Fuck off, Jorie Graham,” the type that might write an entire book of letter-poems to Lil Wayne, ones she might actually send to him during one of his not-infrequent periods of incarceration—which is something that she, in fact, did. (See Dear Lil Wayne, Magic Helicopter Press, 2014; “I sent these letters to Lil Wayne during and after his incarceration. He never wrote back.) Within the very same poem her work can be—and often is—callous and tender:
I fucked you right through the dream catcher…
Resting under the mountain ancient trade road I was here.
Tumbled neon grains, oh I am beautiful under the amber.
rubber roses. the last of the season.
(from “The Beer Can Museum”)
So when contemporary poetry wants its heart back—wants to forget about fellowships and residencies and arts colonies and gladhands and “aesthetic” posturing and prestigious publications that are less than “public” due to the fact that no one actually reads the work inside of them—it should know where it can find it. Staying warm in a microwave next to a busted blender next to Lauren Ireland’s bucket of beer. Her poetry in The Arrow and in general teaches that you can’t miss what isn’t gone— at least not yet. - Jeff Alessandrelli
One of my favorite lines—and there are hundreds just as nauseatingly perfect—in Joe Wenderoth’s Letters to Wendy’s is from the letter written on November 14, 1996. It’s the first snow of the year. The restaurant feels exceptionally full of warmth and caring. Everything is just so perfect, he writes, “I felt like getting fucked up and watching t.v. forever.” You know exactly how he feels. Letters to Wendy’s essentially invents new emotions—or rather, it describes emotions that can only be described in exactly this form, the highly-charged, epistolary prose poem that Wenderoth develops.
Lauren Ireland’s poetry collection Dear Lil Wayne—with its collage of emotions and complaints and confessions—is written in the same spirit. “Tell me what to do with these feelings,” she begs. The answer, of course, is make them into poems. The book is composed of sixty-two postcard poems addressed (and some of them sent) to Lil Wayne during and after his 2010 incarceration on Riker’s Island for criminal possession of marijuana and a .40 caliber pistol. The poems are part diary, part letter, full of sadness and desire for everything Lil Wayne seems to represent, all the things the speaker doesn’t have: fame, love, passion, fearlessness. “It’s so hard to be boring in a fascinating world,” she writes. The self-deprecating awareness of the poems makes them both comic and poignant. “I mean, have you read my chapbook? I just want to be famous for being famous.” And some lines are very funny, for example, “Is it in yet? Ha ha no,” or, “There are so many different types of bitches.”
The poems feel very much like postcards—spontaneous, irreverent, abundant with the unexpected pleasures that result from experimenting with form. The postcard is a fragment of stream-of-consciousness that must be written quickly—you must think of something, right now, to say—but also carefully and clearly, because someone else will be reading. Take the opening sentence of the book: “Hey. I hate it when my hands smell like pennies. Do you think we’re too sad for each other?” Or August 24, 2010:
The poems are less about or for Lil Wayne than they are a way of exploring what it means to write a poem: at its heart, an attempt at meaningful communication with another person, hopefully a broad spectrum of other persons. “What sort of sentences can you say to just anybody?” Ireland asks. At the risk of sentimentality and banality and cheekiness, Ireland seems to broaden the spectrum of feelings a person can have, and so broaden the spectrum of universal communication. “It’s like the time in Philadelphia when I felt pure despair while Augie masturbated in my bedroom,” she writes. There are no words for that feeling but the whole sentence—and somehow, you know exactly how she feels.Dear Lil Wayne, Rain all over the rivers. and the concrete. Gentle ozone. Everything is sad and the feelings! Are you ever sorry? I am. Lately I have been sleepy thuggin over the lazy blankets. What makes pain? Stupid. In 8 million years everyone will be dead. At least I hope. That’ll teach them. My big dumb feelings spread all over. Don’t you wish people would quit stealing our shit? Or at least know who we are.
The hyper self-consciousness, the desire, and the inquisitiveness of the letters also play out in The Arrow, Ireland’s other full-length collection to be published in 2014, which includes poems from her chapbook Sorry It’s So Small (Factory Hollow Press, 2011). The first poem ends, “disappointment & glitter, disappointment & glitter / love stuff love stuff blah blah blah,” the speaker pre-empting any doubts or criticisms the reader might have, as if to say: Whatever you think of me or this poem, I think worse; now let’s move on. These poems are all about sex and death and fear of death—“tiny fear of tiny death”—and feeling so bad it must be worse than the nothingness of death. Though not composed of sonnets, The Arrow has a sonnet-sequence-like narrative—despair, break-up, despair, inklings of new love—of which the poet-speaker is all too aware: “O kill me I am dead,” she writes, and “How exciting to be heartbroken and glad of it.” To the beloved: “Please Get Out of My Poems.”
Like the poems of James Schuyler or the sonnets of Ted Berrigan, The Arrow takes place during a certain time in New York, and the poems often address or refer to specific friends and family members. They are like collages from someone’s diary; reading the book, you feel like you’re eavesdropping, as if you’re catching it in the act of being written. Or they’re like bird nests, worked up out of fragments of image and emotion. “I dream of animals,” Ireland writes, namely: mollusks, wolves, pelicans, a “shark’s vagina,” seagulls, bats, beetles, and, more generally, “large animals.” The speaker, here and in Wayne, always seem to be reaching for some dreamy outside.
The eclecticism and patchwork feel of The Arrow is amplified by the way Ireland scores the poems with large spaces, indicating how to read them, where to take a breath. “What Is True and What Isn’t” begins,
Formally, the poems often work themselves into a repetitive frenzy. Ireland’s musical stutters include, among many others, “Shake shake / shake shake / shake” (“Polish Girls Sunbathing), “plenty of plenty of” (“In Mexico, Boyfriends), “Darling of / Darling of” (“The Feeling of Being Alone in the Woods”), “salt salt salt” (“Something Is Messed Up Real Bad”), “I fell down / I fell down” (“Things Back Home”), “the time the time that the time” (“Poppea in Milk”) and “give me my fuckin money give me my fuckin money” (“The Summer of Two Thousand Fine”). The end of “The Gestalt or Whatever” reminds me of the final stanza of Frederick Seidel’s ecstatic “Gethsemane”: “The animals, the soft things, / the horns & the horns & the horns & the horns.” (Seidel’s poem ends, “To the crowd. / To the crowd. / To the crowd. / To the crowd. To the crowd. To the.”)To start I am the room silver wallpaper in the last light you turn over I Want I want to be a salt lick a little hysterical The deer fly over slanted fence at impossible speeds to-day to-day cut for a man improbable tableax with kimonos go ahead I’m not listening your small face my dear green boots
The speaker of The Arrow seems shaky, but the poems have a ragged edge. The repetitions climax in “Long Division,” one of my favorite poems in the book. It begins, “O god inconstance simple terror. / This is my serious face terrible little blitzkrieg. / or something. I am the trembling preposition, fixed” and ends:
It’s these “quiet details”—like the sound an arrow makes—that give life to the poems. In the Beer Can Museum they sell “rubber roses. the last of the season.” To quote Ireland on Annie Dillard, “How tenderly on window ledges ugly things alight.” One feels the edge in the final poem, when Ireland writes, “I’m so happy I can’t write.” - Sarah TrudgeonI guess. I just want. I just Want to be the sound the arrow makes. I guess I’m I guess a little shaky shaky now.
Lauren Ireland is also the author of Sorry It's So Small, and Olga and Fritz. Currently, she lives in Seattle with her husband and her husband's cat.