Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sleeping with Houdini, Nin Andrews (poetry)

Who could resist a book titled, Sleeping with Houdini? Or an opening poem that introduces us to a girl who concludes: It is only by lying that she can stay alive. Or "Dear Confessional Poet," with its proclamation: I hate what you do. You and your entire school.

As might be expected, the magical Houdini appears and disappears throughout the collection, along with others whose escapes Andrews documents with a quirky mix of irreverence and longing. Many of the poems are magical in the way Grimm's fairy tales are – dark and provocative. But they can also be smartly funny. "Male Logic" – with its self-help tape, Reason Your Way to Bliss – is a laugh-out-loud riff on the failure to communicate.

Throughout, Nin Andrews shows herself to be a Houdini of the prose poem: masterful, confident, always pushing the limits of what this reader will entertain.

"Sleeping for Kafka" exemplifies this. After positing the idea that prayers can heal, it takes us on a magic carpet ride during which prayers can be purchased by calling an 800 number, Kafka's insomnia is slaked by his lover's sleep, angels traverse a ladder of Jacob's thoughts, and Nietzsche speculates on whether people really think. And then it concludes with this amazing assertion:

...Many people are dreamt and prayed. They are like seashells inhabited by hermit crabs.

Most of us have no clue whose dreams we are.

Sometimes dark, always daring, Andrews' collection of prose poems with its sudden turns and swerves, swivels and leaps, never fails to engage. The Monserrat Review listed Sleeping with Houdini among its Best Books of Poetry in 2007, and I understand why. This is a poet worth seeking out.