Target Audiences: Nathan Logan on Brandon Scott Gorrell’s During My Nervous Breakdown I Want to Have a Biographer Present


during my nervous

During My Nervous Breakdown I Want to Have a Biographer Present, Brandon Scott Gorrell, Muumuu House

In an interview with Plan B Magazine, Brandon Scott Gorrell said, “I do not like reading ‘long-winded’ prose/poetry.” That explains why During My Nervous Breakdown… is stripped down and seemingly bare. He also indicated though that Muumuu House has a type of style: “clipped, declarative sentences, often containing a single clause.”

While this can be seen in both the poetry of Tao Lin (founder of Muumuu House) and Ellen Kennedy (whose debut book of poetry was published by Muumuu), this is not the whole story. In Gorrell’s book there are three poems with some form of “alienation” in the title. There are poems with titles including the words “apocalypse,” “destructive,” “horror,” and “terror.” Are things really as bad as all of that in these poems?

The fraying of nerves is the kind of terror Gorrell explores here. According to the back cover, we are the same age, and I would say that I have experienced some of the emotions outlined throughout the book. For example, the first three lines of “you are a goldfish and I am alienated”:

i was nervous about going out with you

so i sat around cultivating internet relationships

while you participated in physical reality in a different way

What awkward twenty-something hasn’t had this feeling? In the poem “gmail,” the Internet takes on another role: “i have gotten adrenaline rushed from situations like finding eight new emails.” For the “I” of Gorrell’s poems, likely the same “I” throughout the book, the Internet is a blessing and a curse.

The other theme running throughout the book is one of wandering. The “I” of Gorrell’s poems is seemingly lost in the world and has only himself/herself to rely on. The first poem of the collection, “potential poem titles,” makes clear the feelings of the speaker. These are the first five lines/stanzas:

look how far away my face is

i feel bad

i’m going to take a bath in 13 gallons of warm coffee

‘tired of life’

i want to murder everyone on the planet with pillows and
then lay down on my bed

I think it is safe to say that Lin has created/founded a new aesthetic in poetry. One blogger referred to it as the “Internet School of Poetry,” but that does not seem to quite fit. Sure, these poems are composed on the computer, but that is not adequate to describe what is happening. “Brutal Honesty” seems too harsh. “The Whatever School of Poetry” might be a more accurate fit, because Lin, Kennedy, and Gorrell, seem not to put too much stock in their poetry. That’s not to say they don’t care, but their poems are what they are––no more, no less. There doesn’t seem to be any “hidden meaning” behind the work of these poets. It is attractive on many levels: it speaks in the language of twenty-somethings, it doesn’t require any knowledge of form or craft really, it just asks that the poet be honest and direct.

That being said, During My Nervous Breakdown… has an appeal to a younger crowd, a group of people who adamantly believe in truth-telling in their poetry that doesn’t have to be dressed up in elaborate metaphors or words that require a dictionary to look up. It won’t appeal to everyone, but I think, as Gorrell wished, it will help him reach his target audience and “increase sales.”

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Nathan Logan is a MFA candidate at Minnesota State University Moorhead and the editor of the online poetry magazine Spooky Boyfriend. He is the author of the chapbook Holly from Muncie (Spooky Girlfriend Press, 2008) and the e-book Dick (PANGUR BAN PARTY, 2009).

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Getting in on the Ground Floor: Nathan Logan on Ellen Kennedy’s Sometimes My Heart Pushes My Ribs


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Sometimes My Heart Pushes My Ribs, Ellen Kennedy, Muumuu House 2009

Tao Lin’s self-marketing promotions have gotten attention from places spanning the blogosphere to The New York Times. He is a one-man marketing machine. Perhaps then it is no surprise that he launched his own publishing house in late 2008, Muumuu House, and that his promotion skills are putting the spotlight on another emerging poet: Ellen Kennedy.

Sometimes My Heart Pushes My Ribs is full of the kind of blunt, straightforward language that Lin himself is known for, and that blogger Connor Tomas O’Brien has labeled “internet poetry.” No doubt, there is a sense of despair that permeates the book. Take the first few lines of “Jean Rhys”:

I’m preparing myself for an extended period of loneliness
That will begin very soon I think
I’ve illegally downloaded two new depressing songs
I’ve placed a copy of Good Morning, Midnight under my
pillow for easy reference

The themes explored in this first lines, as well as the language, will remind readers of Lin’s poetry. It is no wonder that he was drawn to this collection and decided to make it the first publication from Muumuu House. Kennedy’s poems (and stories in this book) evoke the sadness of everyday. Some might argue that the poems are strictly confessional, and thus lacking any poetic weight. But there is a deeper layer to be found. “How to Hold a Person” puts a twist on this melancholy:

Lie on your right side

Put your right arm under my neck

Then wrap your arm around my chest

Put your left arm over my left side

Then wrap your arm around my chest

Rest your face on the other side of my neck

Close your eyes

Wait for sleep

The idea of this poem alone should bring questions to a reader’s mind. Most of us know how to hold a person when we are lying down, so why is there a poem telling us so? Why is the language here so mechanical? There are not many clues as to tell us why this poem is the way it is, we can only assume. And assumption is dangerous when it comes to poetry.

Despite these seemingly cold pieces, there are little splashes of happiness and hope in the book. And these too are expressed with straightforward, no nonsense type language. A trip to the grocery store ends up with one speaker “float[ing] around the sun and [thinking] ‘Yes!’” The poem “Orange” evokes the same feeling:
I wish my life consisted only of
riding my bike with you
down a giant hill that never stopped
while listening to music
with no one else around

Fans of Tao Lin will enjoy Sometimes My Heart Pushes My Ribs. Fans of minimalist poetry will also enjoy this book. Norm Macdonald fans will enjoy this book. Kennedy is helping to usher in a new kind of poetry. I would encourage getting in on the ground floor.

  • Nathan Logan is a MFA candidate at Minnesota State University Moorhead and the editor of the online poetry magazine Spooky Boyfriend. Some of his work has appeared in/is forthcoming from: CELLA’s Round Trip, No Tell Motel, pax americana, Read This, The Scrambler, SIR!, and Taiga.