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


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.