“Don’t Be Afraid To Help Sharks”: TFT Review of Sommer Browning’s EITHER WAY I’M CELEBRATING
Either Way I’m Celebrating
By Sommer Browning
Birds, LLC, 2011
One’s first book publication is a deserved occasion to garner adoration and praise. So far the enthusiasm for Sommer Browning has mostly centered around her contributions to the poetry world via her long-standing poetry reading series at Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn, “The Multifarious Array” (now run by Dorothea Lasky), and her current reading series in her new home of Denver, “The Bad Shadow Affair”, as well as the co-editing work she does for Flying Guillotine Press. Oh and she’s a stand-up comedian too. While these contributions are vital and deserve praise, Browning is a poet, first and foremost, and her stunning first book Either Way I’m Celebrating affirms this.
In Browning’s titular poem she writes, “They’re saying irony is dead. / And for a few minutes I thought/ I might die too—a woman/ who would buy a fifth of liquor/ and a pregnancy test just to see/ the look on the clerk’s face.” The poem flutters between Browning’s deadpan lines and comic timing, but upon closer examination it does something more provocative. The idea of combining a “fifth of liquor” and a “pregnancy test” is a rejection of normative behavior. Not only is the speaker aware of this, but the underlying humor lies in the enjoyment of subverting what is deemed acceptable. “They” represent figures of authority, to which the speaker gestures towards compliancy, while neither conforming nor melodramatically dying, but slyly confronting and persisting.
What is astounding about Browning’s debut collection is how easily she moves between modes of adolescence and adulthood. The words, “I thought I might die too” are filled with the melodrama of teen angst, but also with the awareness of mortality that comes only when one is old enough to know that one is no longer (nor was ever) invincible. The poem “The Opposite of Love” nods at this knowingness too: “Sometimes, it’s the world that’s inadequate.”
Either Way I’m Celebrating accepts the inadequacies of the world but survives and does more than that—it creates its own celebration, therefore owning an agency that can sometimes feel like surrender under the hierarchy of work, family, and success, i.e. the idea of what it means to be an acceptable product of society. Not only do the poems flourish in intelligent rebellion, but the architecture of the book itself goes against the commonly held idea of what constitutes a book of contemporary poetry ( See “Poetry Book Contests Should be Abolished: Why Contests Are the Stupidest Way to Publish First Books” by Anis Shivani). Browning’s book contains a variety of modes, a risk most poetry publishers are too gun-shy to take. The book intersperses Browning’s intentionally unpolished comics throughout and moves between lyric poems and prose poems. Some of the poems are serious (“The Meat from the Dream the Heart Knows”) and some are hilarious (“Officer and a Gentleman”). There are poems that are clear and simple like “Feel Better,” which opens with the lines: “I collect books found in celebrities’ bathrooms; so far/ my life sucks” and poems which are more abstract—what some refer to as “difficult” poetry. It is exactly this variety that makes the book an exhilarating debut. Neither Browning nor her publisher Birds, LLC seeks to limit the idea of poetry, but instead contribute to and expand on how poems can work with each other and come together to create something larger, which is a book that feels like a pulse, the rhythm of young adulthood. The book and the poems have the confidence to celebrate whether we like it or not and that’s a damn fine thing indeed. Or as the poem “The House,” says:
What you canned
Survives a bomb blast.
Gather dust. Sits and musts.
Spring is for berries.
Or from “Don’t be Afraid to Help Sharks”
She’d given up. I kept on,
They were finally in my sights. As I
Raised the raygun, my motion was arrested
By the curious conflagration of an essence unhinged
Gooey, out there beyond the yew.
An “essence unhinged” in its hilarity and dead-seriousness is exactly why Either Way I’m Celebrating is such a notable first poetry book this year.
Check out these awesome and videos of Sommer Browning reading her poems at The Wonderland Ballroom and The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church:
Follow us on twitter@thefastertimes
- 1 Brooklyn Man Now Living Entirely Off Own Beard Garden
- 2 “Cra Cra” Now Official Diagnosis in New DSM (DSM-5)
- 3 OfficeMax Marketing Director Struggling to Make Staplers ‘Sexy’ and ‘Conversational’
- 4 First Openly Straight Figure Skater Comes Forward
- 5 Area Man Tailors Life To Be More Relevant To His Hulu Advertisements
- 6 Fan Banging Furiously on Glass Could Be the Difference in Hockey Playoffs
- 7 Homeless Guy Woos Silicon Valley VCs with Low-Tech Crowdfunding Startup
- 8 Survey: 88% of Eagles Fans Too Drunk To Spell Nnamdi Asomugha Last Season
- 9 Attorney Actually Starting to Believe Own Bullshit
- 10 Local Mom Won’t Stop Being First Person to Like Every Goddamn Thing Son Posts to Facebook