Friday, April 27, 2007

NEW! Review of Amanda Nadelberg

Isa the Truck Named Isadore by Amanda Nadelberg. Slope Editions, $15.

Reviewed by Benjamin A. Mack

In Isa the Truck Named Isadore, Amanda Nadelberg introduces 63 fictional characters doing things like bombing donkeys, cooking peacocks, and drinking motor oil. Each poem in this alphabetical collection is titled after a character whose eccentricities are described satirically by the narrator. Because the narrator often tells the reader to reread previous poems for greater effect (e.g., “Gwenda,” which reads, “Go back to school / and read ‘Ceridwen’ there.”), a back-and-forth movement transforms Isa the Truck Named Isadore into a sardonic interactive experience. Coupled with Nadelberg’s continuous use of subtle language twists and delicate wit, this strategy parodies American culture, society, and religion to an end both refreshing and warranted.

Despite recently relocating to rural Minnesota, Nadelberg is a Bostonian at heart. Bean Town sports and Massachusetts politics become recurring themes throughout her work and sometimes serve as foundations for national comparisons, as in “Sanna”:
Massachusetts will be
the president of this
place and we will all
be honest with such
beautiful teeth and
a sense of water. It
makes you honest I

This poem addresses the 2004 presidential election, and through Senator John Kerry’s presidential campaign, Massachusetts is personified as being “honest.” On the surface, the personification in the poem glorifies Massachusetts. Yet the narrator also possesses a quirky satirical tone that lacks political consequence and focuses on Kerry’s “beautiful teeth” and “a sense of water,” thus critiquing the superficiality and jingoistic nature of American politics.

A unique poetic structure contributes to Nadelberg’s quirky tone. Free verse, skinny lines, and indefinite line breaks mark each poem. The free verse allows for quick changes in subject while the lines and line breaks subvert the reader’s expectations, as in “Bean”:
Inside this small
place I can
love you. Let me
wash your hair in
the bathroom sink and
make you a glass
of water with many
cubes I promise they
will fit.

Each line possesses no more than four words, and the subject changes quickly from washing one’s hair to fixing a glass of water. The indefinite line breaks introduce additional uncertainty into the poem and make the narrator sound aloof and light-hearted.

Nadelberg’s tone and style are the source of her wit, which becomes most evident in portrayals of American pop cultural icons. For instance, in the book’s first poem, “Adelaide,” she writes:
Was walking on
her own street when
a bird flew in
to her forehead
like to Fabio
on that roller coaster
when he came out
all bloody

Unlike Fabio, who is “mad” as a result of the unfortunate occurrence, Adelaide is “sad.” She lacks a mother who can “clean up [her] head.” The narrator expresses adoration for Adelaide’s outlook on life as opposed to Fabio’s in the poem’s final couplet, “this is why I love you. / This and this and this.” This juxtaposition portrays Fabio as unappealing and mocks his popular icon status.

In “Wilberforce,” Nadelberg goes further in mocking American society’s embrace of pop culture--in this case, Miss America:
Miss Ohio
became Miss America
last year, back when
the pageant still had a
talent component. . . .
Miss Ohio sang a song
About Drew [Carey] living in
Iowa as an Amish person
and the audience loved
it and the judges loved it
even more.

From Nadelberg’s description of Miss Ohio’s talent, one immediately recognizes that talent is not needed to win the Miss America pageant. Without the validating aspect of talent, those who embrace the Miss America pageant are mocked and portrayed as being easily amused.

Nadelberg also satirizes Christianity and Judaism by pointing out the misuses and illogical aspects of each faith. In “Emmy” she writes:
Let us pray
for a safe journey of a few
bumps. I can see straight
into the ear next to me a good
inch and a half into this man’s
head. Fabulous. Truly. Just
send it all to Jesus.

In this poem, Nadelberg exaggerates the concept that Christianity will solve even the most insignificant of our problems. She directs a similar tone towards Judaism in “Kaapo”:
Jews bury quick.
Good to the body.
Theo died in the
morning and was
buried the next one.
My uncle sat with
him all night. Jews
keep the dead company.

Together the poems undermine religious tenant and practices, taking them out of context. As a result, certain practices sound harebrained or deranged.

The frailties and foibles of the human condition are revealed throughout Nadelbergs’s Isa the Truck Named Isadore. Using interesting perspectives and an unconventional style, she demeans those aspects of society and culture that many hold dear. Society’s idols and society itself are made to look absurd. According to Lisa Jarnot in her introduction to the book, these societal shortcomings are the “things that make human beings special” and are a result of our “constant effort to make sense of the materials of the world.” In other words, these shortcomings are unavoidable. Nadelberg’s light-hearted satirical tone does not distance the reader from this, and in the process serves the reader a fresh interpretation of Americana.

No comments: