Andrew Faulkner. Need Machine (Coach House 2013).
Well, I’m certainly not as in touch with all the new writers as I once was, so I have not come across Andrew Faulkner’s poetry before. It’s definitely worth knowing, & Need Machine, his first collection, provides a solid & entertaining introduction. If we are wondering what 21st century surrealism might look like, Andrew Faulkner’s writing provides one answer: surrealist as stand-up. After all, ‘That’s what the one-liner wants, / it wants to get out.’
Faulkner’s speakers (personae abound) live in a variety of simultaneous worlds, inner & outer. They include poetry, history, every kind of pop culture, a strain of the domestic, among others, & his general speaker, a Mr Sardonicus is ever there was one, views them all with bitter wit. Images collide; they seem to go nowhere but eventually arrive somewhere unexpected; they’re clear but subtly deranged:
- A long-beached whale
- repurposed as a hut. At times I step in and wear
- the bones like skin. except they’re bones,
- and when it rains I wonder where it is
- my skin has gone. is this what it’s like
- to be wet inside?
Many of these pieces work the apostrophe; they address someone in particular, or more politically the larger world, whether or not the addressee can be known (to either speaker or reader). This leads to a lot of what we might call metaphysical slapstick, where a great deal of the pleasure of this text lies:
- But the switch that toggles my factory settings
- is a finger loitering between a door
- and its frame, caught between ‘delight’
- and ‘just missed a 80%-off sale.’ My tongue grazed
- like an atv, and then you sidled up like an ied.
- I’m on my hands and where my knees used to be.
Faulkner watches the news as well as the many sit-coms he references throughout Need Machine, which gives away some conceptual aspects of his craft. He has the wit to play the clichés & near quotations awry, slip-sliding along discursive ice or skating smoothly over it as in ‘Party’; which is
- Doped up. Def.
- Dumb. I’m rocking this party like Sisyphus.
- Broadly speaking, this party is an animal
- that escapes from the zoo, has its photo captured
- on the cover of several major newspapers
- and is quietly euthanized a few weeks later.
- Narrowly speaking, this party is as novel as a new tattoo.
- Parliamentary democracy, journalistic responsibility
- and this party: these are the pillars that hold society up
- like a bandit.
The pratfalls in these pieces, the excursions to reality-TV versions of both teen-age (Faulkner is still in his twenties) & workers wastelands, emerge as rigorously & ingeniously constructed; they’re purpose-full. Sometimes Faulkner makes his way out of the lyric trap by making fun of the lyric in the lyric: it works, on the whole. These ‘I’s are too busy trying to stay on their feet to moan sentimentally about their situation (& some of them do seem to be in romantic straits: after all, ‘According to my horoscope, / love is a thug with piano wire’).
So these poems offer a funhouse mirror to the reader, one very specifically tied to now. The acronyms, the TV shows, the computer/net savviness, will identify these verses to anyone reading them some years from now as early 21st century; nor is this to complain. Faulkner is writing in & of his time, & doing so in a highly engaging manner. Need Machine is a fine debut.
[I apologize for the list icons on the poetry, but for some reason that was the only way I could get them single spaced; not sure what went wrong in the copy & paste.]