Eulogies / David Foster Wallace was a master writer, talented perhaps beyond even his abilities of description. But for all his literary grandeur–actually part and parcel to it–Wallace, who took his own life in 2008, was also a master of lesser things, seemingly simple writerly trifles. Take, for example, the footnote. Wallace’s footnotes–works unto themselves–became a signature of his work.
It seems sadly appropriate, then, to see so many footnotes littered among a new collection of poems about suicide: Elizabeth Soto’s Eulogies, one of the 2010 releases from local publishing institution Tinfish Press. Slim as the volume is, the material it contains is heartbreakingly heavy. In verse, Soto explores schizophrenia, love, loss and how terrifying mental illness can be, both for the person who is ill and for those who love him. The poems themselves range from dark to fleeting to a kind of dashed hopefulness and longing for delusion. Soto uses footnotes as a contrasting reality check of sorts, as in this excerpt:
when we sailed off the edge of
passed sea serpents,
singing us to shores
we once dreamt into being/
Do you remember?
held your hand,
Wished three times that I
could save you
from falling / 7
7 What do I remember? I remember he was terrified of everything
Part of what has made Tinfish a force in local publishing since its 1995 inception is its fearlessness in featuring difficult material. But what began 15 years ago with a collection that was photocopied and stapled together has evolved into countless diverse publications full of content that still adheres to that early goal. Joining Soto’s new release is Gizelle Gajelonia’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at TheBus.
Gajelonia’s collection, like Soto’s, is slim, but decidedly more lighthearted. There are jokes about Mayor Mufi Hannemann and the campaign-promise potholes left unfilled, phonetic approximations of Homer Simpson catchphrases and a reference to the 2004 movie Garden State. But for all its fodder, Thirteen Ways of Looking at TheBus also conveys a sense of someone looking very closely–and critically–at what surrounds her. Gajelonia’s simplest sentiments, like this one, anchor the collection in a voice as accessible as the nearest bus stop:
It was evening all afternoon
It was raining
And it was going to rain some more
TheBus splashed puddles
In the red dirt
A third 2010 release from Tinfish is also its most aesthetically playful. Kaia Sand’s Remember to Wave is zine-like in its presentation: blocks of typewritten text are cut in blocks, facing every which way from page to page, black-and-white photos plastered inexactly and collage-like among them. The content itself is deliberate and serious, as Sand explores a history of political turmoil in Portland, Ore.
Sand’s book begins with a powerful uncertainty:
How do I notice
what I don’t notice?
How do I notice
what I don’t know
I don’t notice?
notice with the attention
and drifting inattention of poetry
walk, and walk.
Perhaps it’s the melancholy or the obvious markings of long and hard thinking over time, but all of this–Sand’s book, the two previously mentioned collections and more than anything Tinfish Press as a whole–calls to mind David Foster Wallace and his footnotes. Tiny afterthoughts at the bottom of the page that wouldn’t be missed had they never been printed, but are deeply appreciated for the fact that they are.