This poetry collection’s cover depicts a pair of white briefs. On appearance alone, one could ostensibly read A Nice Place to Visit in bed and rightfully boast that Sky Gilbert left his underwear behind. Again.
That said, more than appearance matters in this funny, angst-ridden and often sentimental writing stew. Fortunately for readers, this seeming mess succeeds at being good — and often hilarious.
Gilbert packs pithy observations about large questions — death, aging, regret and love — into writing that he insists is “non-poetry.” Ironically, his lack of rigid structure and his focus on rhythm and grammatical style is typical of lots of compelling, contemporary Canadian poetry.
Gilbert has nailed both free verse and prose poetry here, although he employs whatever means necessary, including faux film reviews, to tackle his subjects. Gilbert’s poetic synopsis of Humoresque, starring Joan Crawford, begins with “This is a terrible movie” and finishes with a spoiler about the ending. Nonetheless, because the film sounds abysmal, the reader feels saved from squandering time on a heinous celluloid grotesquerie.
Other pieces are presented as lists, often light on insight. On the Way Back from Connecticut, however, hits the right notes. In it, the narrator yearns to relate to his family, despite their differences. They don’t like body piercings, whereas he has a navel piercing. They are serial breeders, whereas he has no children. Alas.
Gilbert includes postcard fiction, vignettes expressed in single paragraphs. The Old Friend relates the chance meeting of the narrator and his handsome ex-boyfriend. Although the narrator still feels drawn to the actor, a mournful tone pervades the poem. They’re two ships not even passing in the night anymore.
Throughout the collection, the playwright/novelist/poet cheerleads non-monogamy. He’s not only rolling in the hay; he’s hitting several barns. The poem Romance opens with:
Nothing is more romantic than promiscuous sex
a different man every night
the one with the beard and piercing eyes who called me baby
the one with the boy’s face
most of them want me to submit
but sometimes I make them
Such graceful lines contrast their blunt themes, like Key West Regret, an enunciation of excessive sexing and drugging that ends on a love note.
As for high notes, Gilbert hits several with his strange I’ll-throw-in-every-writing-style-but-the-kitchen-sink approach. The poem Parker Posey is a dedication to the often-underrated titular indie film queen. Gilbert earns points for being perhaps the first Canuck poet to rhapsodize about this American actress’s singular talent, while equating her screen persona to that of a hyper-intelligent loner stuck in a crowded room of mediocrity.
Those familiar with Gilbert’s readings will recognize Ode on My Mangina (with apologies to Keats). He’s delivered Ode at readings for some time. In print, it remains funny and flippant.
The mash of writing styles in this collection produces glimpses of truth. Gilbert is possessed by the moment, speaking to complicated relationships with friends, lovers and enemies, and dishing out advice wherever appropriate. Readers can ponder whether the material is biographical, pseudo-biographical or fictional.
Meanwhile, they should enjoy touring in this strange and sometimes beautiful place.