But then the casualness of this collection is one of its attractions. It doesn’t strain after anything. It doesn’t have airs; and if it could speak, it would likely charmingly admit to its own imperfections. A mixture of depth and diversion, it makes you wish that, like a reliable band, Gabbert might publish a similar slender volume every year or two.
In many ways, this is the tension that lies at the heart of almost any creative activity, the need to come to terms with the existence of art as a shaped thing. Throughout The Word Pretty, we encounter a mind in near-constant constant tension with itself, a restless intelligence that craves the respite of a sort of “meaning-freeness” — a site in which meaning is present but also resists analysis, so perhaps more of a “beyond-meaning-ness” — that is reminiscent of the physical body’s need for sleep.
I found Elisa Gabbert’s The Self Unstable a wonderful surprise. It was the most intelligent and most intriguing thing I’ve read in a while, moving between lyric poetry, aphorism, and memoir, and with thoughts worth stealing on just about every page.
What links L’Heure Bleue to Gabbert’s previous collection, The Self Unstable, are claims like these, and how they exist because of her peculiar and unrivaled mastery of tone in dilated time. Gabbert writes from a position of one who has been thrown off an impossibly tall building and thus has discovered fatalist ease in the spell of time that must pass before she inevitably lands. It’s a fantasy, of course; the actual condition would be one not of calm but of accelerating panic. Nevertheless, there’s something powerfully, intuitively correct about the way Gabbert inhabits and expands these impossible in-between moments, correct in that she is a writer who never seeks to obscure or escape the implications of her own capacity to write, her freedom and her power and all they allow even if those allowances are not infinite.
Gabbert can pack a lot of weird into a very small picnic basket, and the familiarity of her approach—the sort of observational mixture of claim, question, comment and example that often comprises jokes, for instance—conceals, and usefully, some of her genuinely impressive and profitable ambition. None of this would work, however if the individual and collective effect of the poems didn’t inspire thought more elaborate than a simple, genial pattern of agreement or disagreement with what Gabbert has to say, though she must and does first drive the reader through that pattern of affirmation and refusal. As I read any one of these poems, I am impressed by how unadorned and dull it seems, but also how impossible to refute. And then I wonder if I would have a more immediately positive response if the surface of the language provided more in the way of glitter and spangle, and if in fact I would prefer the glitter and spangle because it would obviate or reduce my need or desire to feel as if the language was vehicular of thought. In this sense, at least, the more pedestrian and cliché Gabbert seems to be, the more the reader is forced to pay attention, especially to the machine that turns obscurity (defined as that which prohibits something from translation to a lucid thought) into “beauty” and “meaning.”
Coldfront (Top 10 Books of 2013)