Friday, January 16, 2009

Shelf Life: Paul Guest's My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge

Posted By on Fri, Jan 16, 2009 at 9:05 PM

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GENRE: A plate-thin, hardcover collection from a local contemporary poet

BACKSTORY: Guest, currently a visiting professor at the University of West Georgia, has been paralyzed from the neck down since a bicycle accident at age twelve.

SUGGESTIVE TITLE OF THE OPENING POEM: “User’s Guide to Physical Debilitation”

PUBLISHER’S ANGLE: Guest is the first poet Ecco has contracted in over a decade. If it’s been that long (or longer) since you’ve bought a book of poems, this would be a good place to start.

INDEX OF KNOWLEDGE: Like his contemporary Dean Young, Guest conjures information with a self-aware, surreal style. Mozart’s skull, ascetic Canadian monks, Werner Herzog, Kim Jong Il, and Wayne Gretzky all make appearances in the book, summoned like passing thoughts in an intimidating mind.

SELF-MOCKING COMPARISON TO STEPHEN HAWKING: “Is she pretty? I hope so. I will text her Neruda but claim it’s my own. I will at last seem like a genius. Call me Stephen.”

SLIGHTLY HORRIFYING: The poems rumble like pots full of hot water — threatening to boil over at any moment. Guest writes almost everything with a frustrated, libidinal energy that's as overwhelming as it is engrossing. His confession that “there is nothing/in all the flat world which would satisfy me” seems to permeate the whole book.

LOVE POEM WRITTEN TO A SOUL-SUCKING JOB: In “Job,” Guest imagines workaholic devotion, “I had my spleen removed, one kidney, the appendix poisonous with mystery, all to make room for my experimental onboard fax machine, just for this moment. Just for you.”

SEXUAL HEALING: Guest’s cynical attitude rejects any clichéd pain or pity for his paralysis. He begins one poem, “My arms are mostly cosmetic” and ends with the revelation “A lie to say that when/she held my hands to her hips/and her body above mine,/I loved such need, I did not hate us both.”

My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge By Paul Guest. Ecco. $23.95. 96 pp.

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