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Destruction Myths

I want you #2, Lisa Hanawalt (Pigeon Press) $6.95

Lisa Hanawalt’s I want you is a fine wine aged slightly more to vinegar with each issue, and I love it. I want you #2 reprises several sequences from #1, including “North American Wildlife and Hats,” with personal favorites like the Desert Hare’s “Lazy Susan Hat with Hot Dog and Pancake Condiments,” the Bison’s “Civil War Bugle Hat (Plays ‘Reveille,’ ‘Taps’ and ‘Sledgehammer’),” and the Gila Monster’s “Wind Turbine Kerchief.” He-Horse and She-Moose are both back with their respective friends: an eerily anthropomorphic cast of animals engaging in typical hipster minor melodramas, including a visit to the sex shop, panic on a plane trip—I imagine sitting next to the ornithophobic He-Horse on a plane is more comfortable than engaging with many past seatmates—, and deciding what to do on a saturday night. Her one liners are funny, but Hanawalt achieves her most successful humor by riffing on ideas for several pages—as in her hat series, this volume’s “Gift Guide,” and “Bad Pets.” So far Hanawalt has fortified her potty humor with real intelligence and wit, avoiding the pitfalls of bad taste and juvenilia. The seventh suggestion from “How to Flatter a Person”—“Convince them that they’re different & special—, a single panel in which a relatively unattractive male caresses a woman busy with her laptop in a small living room with the TV on, applies well to Hanawalt as writer and artist. The man says, “Bitch, you’re a fucking wild card!”

Destruction Myth, Mathias Svalina (Cleveland State University Poetry Center) $15.95

In his full-length debut, Svalina also uses the technique of riffing to explore the abounding myths we live by. Svalina is funny and smart, with a special knack for uncovering minor absurdities. His work reminds me of later James Tate, of the Mexican writer Hugo Hiriart, and of something I can’t quite put my finger on—a sign, I expect, of Svalina’s own imitability. It’s a consistently intelligent book, with a few minor misfires, usually owing to the overextension of stylistic elements employed in individual poems. The collection’s first poem, titled, like the 43 poems after it, “Creation Myth,” employs Svalina’s characteristic humor and skill for subtly upending the ordinary:

In the beginning everyone looked like Larry Bird

but everyone did not have the name Larry Bird

& this was confusing. Everyone had a headache

& walked around with furrowed brows. Headaches

hadn’t been invented & when people described the pain

they said: An angry Larry Bird stands on my neck

& My head is Larry Bird after missing a layup.

Even the babies were the size & shape of Larry Bird…

OOOOOOOOOOOOThe real Larry Bird retired

to his basement. He wore magnifying goggles

& built watches of smaller & smaller dimension.

He built watches so small that he needed a microscope

to affix the springs & levers in the right places.

He built watches so small that he called them cells.

He built watches so small that he called them atoms.

Svalina’s prose poems employ the story patter and gimmicks of origin myths, and wrestle with abundant metaphor. He ends the collection with a “Destruction Myth” in thirteen parts, in which several previous characters—including Larry Bird—make reappearances. His last section of that poem could apply to Destruction Myth as a whole:

Most people didn’t want it to end.

But then it was the end.

DS

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