Monday, December 31, 2007

December Poetry Book Club Discussion Post: Tao Lin's you are a little bit happier than i am

I hope that everyone is enjoying their New Year's Eve. Here is the Poetry Book Club Discussion post for the month. Personally, I'll be posting my thoughts tomorrow morning. I look forward to hear what everyone thought of the book!

Discussion Questions

Overall, did you like the book? What about it did you like?

Were there specific poems that spoke to you? Which ones? Why?

Was there anything that confused you about the overall book? What was it?

Were there any individual poems that confused you?

How would you describe the author's style? How did he use language to convey images, ideas, or voice?

How would you describe the structure of the book? Did you see any sense of movement or progression from one poem to the next?

Would you choose to read this author again? Why or why not?


...deb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mariacristina said...

This was the first book by Tao Lin I've read, and I loved it. I've reread most of the poems, and I've read many of them aloud to my family. I am certainly going to read his previous books, and his future books too.

My favorite poem, at least for now, is "i want to start a band." My sons are teenage musicians who jam with their friends, so I read it to them, and they understood it, and liked it.

This poem reminded me of thoughts I've had that I'm not necessarily proud of, but I did have them. I'm glad I read this poem, to remind myself of those thoughts, and to catch them when I have them even now.

I respect and admire how well Tao creates his interior life on the page. He writes as though it were stream of consciousness, although it isn't. I like that I can understand his poems. In fact, I could relate to all of them. I wasn't at all confused.

I think if Woody Allen were Tao Lin, and if Woody Allen wrote poetry, he might write like Tao Lin. However, no one else writes like Tao, from my limited reading experience,and that's another reason why I like his poems very much.

What else did i like? his relationship with you, his depiction of his mother, his brother, his brother's difficulties pooping, all of that. I'm a mother, and I know this stuff happens, but no one talks about it. Tao names the previously unmentioned aspects of family and thought.

So, I'm a 47 year old woman who completely loves this work by a 24 year old. I was so happy I found your book club, and then Tao's book. I'm going to Amazon after this comment, for more.

...deb said...

(I had a stray word here and there in my first post that made no sense, so deleted the entry. In the meantime, mariacristina has posted and I am very glad a positive response came up first. I will hope to learn from all of you! But I still didn't like this book and you'll see why, I hope, if I was clear enough.)

Overall, did you like the book? What about it did you like?

I’ve got to say “Not so much”. I mentioned earlier (in another post comment, edited here) that reading this book was going to be...a little bit more difficult that i thought... it would be…I am not enjoying his writing. It might be my mood, but I don't find all the i's very interesting.

I wonder if it is an age thing. Can a middle-aged woman find poetry in the mind of a young hipster? I would hate if this is a generation thing. It doesn't bode well for my intellectual-future to not be able to hear what-will-be-modern-language. But it well could be. I am not intrigued by self-absorption; his emotional mirror is not finding a place for me.

On the other hand, I am intrigued by his blog: I would like his fiction more. But I went to Mississippi Review. And I'm not so sure.

I’m still not keen for this book.

Was there anything that confused you about the overall book? What was it?

The index was confounding, at first, until I thumbed through the book and realized it was simply an unusual list, graphically. It could be read as a poem. I found that an interesting idea. I didn’t like the poem it became, but I liked the idea.

Were there any individual poems that confused you?

I kept trying to find some overarching meaning that never showed itself to me. Maybe I am too serious. The only thing I came away with was emotion. No understanding, only emotion. Unfortunately, the emotion was dislike for the narrator, and I didn’t want to dislike the narrator. I wanted to like him, but I found his voice too narcissistic. I read (found) little of the cast of characters (or speaking objects) you saw (based on your interview questions) and found that those things were only a muted reflection of that little “I” voice. So after I felt dislike, I felt annoyance, irritation.

How would you describe the author's style? How did he use language to convey images, ideas, or voice?

I appreciate that Lin uses everyday language that wouldn’t make a 12-year old uncomfortable. (Your interview was helpful.) But guess what? I am not interested in what that 12-year old wants. Maybe I should be, because they are the ones that will set Medicare benefits when I am an old-lady looking for tender care and mercy. But right now I don’t think they have much to offer me and are not very interesting. So gearing language to them and K-Mart workers doesn’t work for me. I am not a snob. I like low-brow, I was born & raised in a below-average setting; I am one step away from WT. But this was not creating any place I wanted to live or even visit now.

Would you choose to read this author again? Why or why not?

This might surprise you after reading my comments. I’ll keep reading Lin--on occasion--to see what he is thinking about. But I won’t sift through a book unless I find my own emotional traction with it pretty quickly.

Robert Hass is more my style. I missed my bus stop (by several stops—and it was a cold windy night!) last night because I was so engrossed in reading Time & Materials.

mariacristina said...

I just want to add that I'm middle aged, yet I truly loved Tao's work. I felt connected to him. I don't think it's generational. It's just what you like to read or don't like to read, in my opinion.

Jessica said...

Thank you ...deb and mariacristina for your comments. I like to see that we hold such a diversity of opinion on this book.

Personally, I am of two minds about this book. There are some things that I really admire about Lin's writing style and of course the end result and there are some things that I didn't care for.

What I liked was the consistency of his voice and his world view. Once I got acclimated to his book, which took 3-4 poems as usual, I felt like I was slipping into his world. Typically I feel that more in fiction than in poetry, but I think he writes in such a distinctive voice and manner that I felt absorbed by it.

I also liked his sense of humor. There's a lot of sarcasm and irony and just weird surreal images that I enjoyed. I found myself thinking, "Oh, of course," when he took one of his leaps. While reading this on the bus ride to work, I found myself laughing out loud at some of his lines. Embarrassing on a city bus.

However, I do agree that there is a kind of narrowness to this book, in some ways. It is very limited to the perspective. So his strength is his weakness as well, depending on your tolerance for his voice. I certainly couldn't read the book for long stretches and I really needed to pace myself with his writing.

Now, I can understand how his reliance on his own perspective can seem narcissitic. His poetry is about the "I" in the poem and the "you" to whom it is addressed. I would argue, however, that most poems are often about the "I" perspective. I sometimes feel that writing poetry, in itself, is a narcissitic act. You need to have a faith in your own perspective, that it is unique enough, beautiful enough, intelligent enough, whatever enough to warrant adding your voice to the literary dialogue.

When I was writing my thesis, I got really sick of the "me" in the poems, which are kind of a fantasy version of the real me. (Or sometimes, in the case of persona poems, not me at all, but a facet of my personality that I express using a fictional character.) In the end, I wondered, who the heck would care about these poems, besides myself and my small circle of friends and family? In the 20th-21st century, we're still really married to that idea of personal perspective in poetry.

Enough poetry lecture for now. I'll write some more thoughts tomorrow, post work. I have a hellacious cold and I can't stand snuffling anymore at my computer, so I'm going to lay down. :)

...deb said...

Christine, thanks for the gentle reminder that sometimes we just don't like something. I enjoyed your response to Lin and the idea that he's Woody-esque. Before Woody's last marriage I liked him a great deal, so your comparison helped me with Lin, a bit.

Jessica, hope you are feeling better. A cold on the new year day is just not right.

I do get the narcissitic-ness (?!!) of writing, especially in poetry. I guess I tend to prefer writing and reading about abstractions, or nature, or looking at things and feelings sideways rather than head-on. I also think that my aversion to Lin's style might just be fear of the interior self. (I don't want to get into areas only a therapist should tread :-) ) I think it would be a good exercise for me to look at a Lin poem I particularly dislike and try to write one in a similar vein. Just to see if I can see what I react to, specifically. Or make an appointment with my therapist. :-)

I can say this about myself--there have been some times when the things I react strongly against have the most ability to teach me something. I try to be fearless. Or at least walk to the edge of something and look down and across. I see I didn't do that with Lin.

Thanks for the lively discussion.

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