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Review: B is for Bad Poetry by Pamela August Russell

September 22, 2011 - by Adam Vatterott

It gets an A+ for, you know, effort.

Life is tragic. God is dead. And “L.A. / is like a bathroom full of junkies” (“Ode to a Summer Vacation”). Thankfully, Pamela August Russell reminds us that poetry has never solved any of these issues. Her latest book, B is for Bad Poetry, is a laugh track during a Lifetime movie. Note the sweet and the sour of “Unfortunate Cookie”:

You will soon meet someone
who will bring you much joy and love

Eventually they will devour your soul
like it’s a hot dog eating championship.

Lucky Numbers: 543, 8, 912, 78

Russell may contemplate depression, but with titles such as “Love is Like a Toilet Bowl,” rest assured that she believes laughing is the better strategy. She glibly parodies her way through everyday tragedy, with snarky gems such as “Recipe for Disaster,” “Country Song Poem,” and “College Notebook”:

Existentialism can be applied to anything.
Every moment is a continuous choice.
How do we find meaning?
Kegger at Bryce Hall 3:30 P.M.

Anything is fair game for Russell’s pointing and teasing (“Nietzsche and The Ice-Cream Truck”). And she has a knack for parodying the kind of poetry that usually goes over my head. “Urban Decay,” an intimate poem with expressive setting, ends softly on a note I’d  never dare explicate in class:

There are weeds now
where your tongue
once circles
broken beer bottles
and rusted car parts
where your hands
once caressed
graffiti and paint chips
where your lips
once kissed
and a tow truck
taking away
the only orgasm left
on this empty lot

Consider it a consolation for sitting through any lecture on what poetry is or should be. Buy it for your pretentious friends. B is for Bad Poetry is proof that good poetry doesn’t have to be good to be, you know, good.

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