Sing radiohead like something has gone wrong: A Review of Rachel B. Glaser’s MOODS
Rachel B. Glaser’s MOODS is replete with wry recognitions of what some may call ordinary situations, and her work is a template for a good reader with interpretative skills. Glaser’s work has been compared to Jennifer Knox’s, and I think there is, within that comparison, an allusion to the dark, often satirical humor that both employ. Rather than searching for a “nugget” of truth within these pages, one looks for insight into the art world, the youthful world, the family world of those who may identify. These playful poems are cast so that they reward multiple readings, and there are many ways to enter their dark beauty. There’s a sense in which this book, much like Knox’s, provides a mirror of a social world that needs to see itself reflected in the glass. Glaser doesn’t make a book of confession or expression, but rather a book of stories (little narratives) with speakers whose identities always remain elusive (allusive) to us as readers. She hints at insight without giving too much away, and her characters are equally frustrating and entertaining. With titles such as “I wanna know which friend will die young, so I can spend more time with them now” and “God is popular” and “Tropical Islands,” what might you expect?
One such archetypal humorous (darkly so) speaker is the narrator of “Every time my pills fall, I feel very much like an addict.” The poem is satiric and somewhat intentionally gauche, and the speaker begins by saying: “when they scatter, it is disapproving / they dance on hardwood / they rest on carpet.” Such a small detail begins the poem, but it becomes more (purportedly) “confessional” in tone, with the speaker becoming more ludicrous as we go, not to be taken without a grain of requisite salt:
spilling pills makes me feel like I have a stressful, high-profile job
that I really have no time to pick up anything
I have too many young kids
the landline is crammed between my cheek and shoulder
like a sex addict
like I have a shoplifting problem
or I’ve borrowed people’s kids
The poem continues to present to us what we might call a misspent life, but it does so both with requisite irony and with a sense of entering into the narrator’s life, though logic does not abide within the poem as it meanders through the interior workings of the speaker’s mind. Here’s a little more:
also, I think it’s sort of corporate when a cell phone rings in public
I feel hapless eating pizza
like I’m drunk if I park weird
Many of the poems in MOODS explore similar interior worlds, and they do it with style and precision that may not be noticed on first reading. There are, though, moments of sincerity, and while I’m always wont to believe that a poet is a speaker, I find the following lines from “Sing radiohead like something has gone wrong” entirely charming and affected by the sincerity of a “poet”:
karaoke is praying
if you do it right
biblical holograms of high school bedrooms
your voice reflecting in the glass
These are lovely lines, and the poem continues to provide a structure of feeling that is youthful, quirky, and full of gracefulness despite its awkward situation. There’s something dreamlike here, and it’s a good thing, entirely, but the poems in the book make up such dreaminess with a keen knowingness that their worlds can’t hold forever, that there’s a time and place to move toward something new. In “The BAD LOFT PARTIES,” we have a different speaker:
I had sex with this boy I’m friends with. He has such a nice girlfriend. If the parties hadn’t been so bad, we wouldn’t of, but every party was bad. One party had baked ziti, but was still bad. The friend, he wears t-shirts that have disgusting things silk-screened on. Like somebody eating their eyeball with a fork. Or a cow having sex with a car and both are dripping with slime. A bathtub filled with blood but the blood has a smile.
There’s something terrifying about the last few images, and there’s a deep surrealism to these lines that brings us out of the ordinary and into a more imagistic knowing of what the “mood” of the bad parties must have been. This is a marvelous rendering of what the experience must have been like, and at the end of this poem, we have an allusion to Sylvia Plath: “I ride on my bike, no hands, eating air.” The confessional tone of the poems in MOODS isn’t quite Plathian, because one gets the sense that the book isn’t as steeped in autobiography, but there is a postmodern confessional quality to the poems, and they don’t lack the sense that their writer (Glaser) is up to something new and unique here.
What I most love about this book is that there are, interspersed within the narratives, which read as Browning-esque fiction, poems of Heideggerian simplicity, childlike awareness; “It is human to love houses” is one such poem. Glaser writes:
to see houses as an embodiment of the life one could
potentially live inside
to look at house listings for fun, while inside a house
as if life can only be lived indoors
it is natural to want an ancient house
so one might have the old, real thoughts
or a slick, new house
to have expensive, expansive thoughts
Here we have a soft architecture. Glaser expands on the notion of “language as a house” to make it seem more up-to-date, in language that is charmingly accessible and motivated by a desire to avoid exaggeration unless it’s descriptive exaggeration (a wonderful tactic that she makes use of in many of her poems). MOODS is a delightful book, and one that is deceptively plain in tone (the best way, I think). It rewards re-reading because of the ways Glaser manages to construct the best sorts of stories, with layers that ask the reader to do a bit more than just skim the surface.