Either Way I'm Celebrating
Either Way I'm Celebrating
Sommer Browning
Birds LLC, 2011
Poetry as a Mixed Martial Art
J. K. Andrews

To ask the meanings of poems is to assume there is one.  Or possibly a handful of meanings. A poem may have a meaning or a point or point at the absence of meaning or simply be an associative (sometimes dissociative) bit of wordplay. To quote Sommer Browning, “Either way I'm celebrating.”  This is also the title of her book containing a poem of the same moniker, published recently by Birds LLC.  One of the definitions of celebrating is to hold something up for public notice. 

Browning holds up to the public notice twenty-two poems divided into three sections by simply drawn comics that resemble zen koans. The detached voice in the comics and in the poems is consistent and works to show a progression from more conventional, if quirky, structures, to the sections “Vale Tudo” and “To the Housesitter” [sic]. Browning explains “vale tudo” is Portuguese for “anything goes”  and is a mixed martial art with few rules.  The poetry that follows reveals a designing intelligence, but rules don't interfere with expression.  The writing in these longer sections is more compressed and arranged in short paragraphs set one or two to a page. “Vale Tudo” and “To the Housesitter” could be a series of linked prose poems or single long poems with verses isolated from each other by page breaks. “Vale Tudo” has been published as a chapbook and some verses have appeared as stand-alone poetry.

The persona in the poems observes but does not deeply engage with the environment, situation, or other people. The “I” in the poems is distanced from the self being commented on, but is not entirely unsympathetic. “Either Way I'm Celebrating” begins,

         They're saying irony is dead.
         And for a few minutes I thought

         I might die too---a woman
         who would buy a fifth of liquor
         and a pregnancy test just to see
        the look on the clerk's face.       

The speaker goes on to describe watching a drive-in movie from her parents' Pacer, a car manufactured between 1975 and 1980. The adults laugh at the film, but the woman looking back remembers not understanding how “something/ huge and astonishing could be flat,/ could not exist at all.”  Browning's poetry and comics are preoccupied with deconstructing, re-visioning, re-naming, and re-purposing ordinary bits of experience. In Either Way I'm Celebrating, irony survives.

J. K. Andrews

Jane Andrews has published creative nonfiction, essays, poetry, and short stories. Her work has appeared in The Main Street Rag, The Rambler, Verdad Magazine, Southern Arts Journal, and The Recent Past Preservation Network, among other publications. She is a past board member of Carolina Wren Press, and teaches poetry and creative nonfiction through Duke University.