Like most winning drunken acts, The Drunk Sonnets is comprised of extremes. I came away from each poem thinking it was either the best damn thing I’d read in years or that it fell completely flat.
Daniel Bailey is a genius. Daniel Bailey’s poems may or may not be genius and that is precisely the reason why Daniel Bailey is, in fact, a genius. You know when you go out with about ten of your best friends and you decide you’re only going to drink car bombs for the evening, and one of those friends does something that is at once amazing and shameful, then the next morning he or she simply claims “I was real hammered!” and all you can do is shrug at say something to the extent of “Yeah that was great”? That is the only experience that can accurately be likened to reading The Drunk Sonnets. By presenting us with a collection of “Drunk Sonnets” Bailey has created an essentially fool-proof, ready-made defense against any negative criticism.
Like most winning drunken acts, The Drunk Sonnets is comprised of extremes. I came away from each poem thinking it was either the best damn thing I’d read in years or that it fell completely flat. The contrast arises from Bailey’s combination of completely original thinking and his use of lines that sound like they’re straight from the composition notebook of a recently dumped 10th grader. This utter unpredictability which shows up in “Drunk Sonnet 25”
I WOULD BUY A SATELLITE AND BROADCAST DISEASE
I WOULD BUY A SHADOW AND STITCH IT TO THE SUN
I WOULD BUY A THIRD WORLD COUNTRY AND ENSLAVE IT
I WOULD SOAK UP THE OCEAN WITH CAS
I WOULD SHADOW BOX A HORSE AND THEN EAT COINS
is equally as abundant and gratifying as the seemingly formulaic approach that is employed in “Drunk Sonnet 15” is irritating.
NO ONE CAN BE COMPLETE WITHOUT THAT THING
THAT COMPLETES THEM AND MAKES THEM ALIVE
AND IF THAT THING IS NOT LOVE THEY ARE NOT ALIVE
AND I THINK I AM ALIVE BUT THAT LOVE IS ASTRAY
Regardless I found it difficult not to admire Bailey’s willingness to put himself on the page without regard for how he might be received in a current poetic climate which more and more seems to be spitting on personal sincerity. These aspects of the collection look into the eyes of existing trends in poetry and say “NO” and that is something hard not to get behind. I say the approach in “Drunk Sonnet 15” is only seemingly formulaic due to the fact that by virtue of the formula usage, Bailey is refusing to pander.
What’s even more venerable about Bailey and his collection is the lack of self-consciousness and what appears to be an almost entire lack of a vetting/editing process. Several lines in “The Drunk Sonnets” read as though they were originally a mistake. In “Drunk Sonnet 1” Bailey tells us
I CAN’T SLEEP AT NIGHT AND AT DAY I DON’T WANT AWAKE
AND A BODY THAT RUSTS INTO HARD AND AND UNBELIEVABLE
These are exactly the kind of lines that often end up slaughtered at the hands of sober morning revision. A less confident, more “careful” poet would have gone over this with a hangover and tossed a preposition between “WANT” and “AWAKE” before obviously deleting the repeated “AND” all most likely with clarity for the dear editors in mind.
Unfortunately for the more cautious poets, there is a lot of meat to be stripped from Bailey’s methods. Like a child screaming a demand, Bailey’s absent preposition makes “AWAKE” an object to be owned, not a state in which to exist. As for the 2nd “AND,” well just go ahead and think about all the stuttering you do when drunk and then claim these are not authentic lines.
There are other moments in “The Drunk Sonnets” when the apparent mistakes come off less like accidental brilliance and more so as simply straight up typos. Bailey begins “Drunk Sonnet 9” with such a line.
I’M GLAD THAT YOU’RE SILL ALIVE AND DOING WELL
But given the nature of the collection one can’t complain, nor does Bailey really allow you reason to do so. If this is in fact a typo and not an affectation to appear like a drunken line, it cannot be edited if the more rewarding accidents are to remain as well. It seems that Bailey has set out to present himself as well as his work in the rawest form possible and if this is do be done properly, we’re going to get the purposeful, the accidental, the intensity, and even the typos.
Just as Charles Bukowski could be typecast as the despairing drunk and Frank O’Hara could be typecast as the joyous drunk, Bailey’s work embodies more accurately the bi-polar nature of drunken thought, sharing both his despair and his joys and all that sits in between. While it’s an extremely a bold claim to compare a young poet to Bukowski or O’Hara, there are several aspects of The Drunk Sonnets that warrant the association. Aside from the alcoholic connotations that arrive with mentioning either of those poets, there are stylistic plans of attack used in Bailey’s collection that cannot help but to remind me of the two famed drunkards. There is a very personal urgency throughout The Drunk Sonnets that causes you to feel as though you’re hanging out with Daniel Bailey rather than reading him. In “Drunk Sonnet 8” Bailey tells us
I THINK I WANT TO EAT YOUR SMILE TONIGHT
I THINK THERE’S SOMETHING IN IT TO KEEP ME ALIVE
I’M LOOKING AT THIS SLEEPING CAT RIGHT NOW
HE JUST SHIFTED ALITTLE AND IT WAS NICE
In the same way that Bukowski would tell you about a girl standing outside his window as he typed or O’Hara give you his exact location down to the street and time down to the minute, Bailey lets you know how much he’s drinking, what he’s eating, or maybe what’s on his floor.
The most nourishing aspects of the book lie inside another way Bailey turns his back on a number of contemporary tendencies. Throughout the collection it is clear that Bailey is writing either to or for a certain other from whom he separated, but by the time we reach “Drunk Sonnet 49” the suspicion is confirmed.
THIS IS #49
POEM-WISE YOU’RE ALMOST OVER THE HILL
SOON YOU’LL BE DEAD
I CAN’T TELL YOU HOW MUCH IT HURTS ME
TO THINK OF YOU THAT WAY
BUT I NEED YOU GONE
Although the meta qualities of recognizing the placement poem itself in the collection deserve recognition, the real pleasure to be had in these lines is how absurdly they resonate. We’ve probably all had our share of drunken fixations often resulting in unruly facebooking and obsessive little love poems, but most of us delete our history and throw the poems in the real or virtual trash bin. Bailey, however, is not only saving the results of these moments, but sharing them and he seems to be aware we how similar we are. In “Drunk Sonnet 19” he relates
TODAY I ALMOST THREW UP AT WORK
I WAS JUST SITTING THERE AND HAD TO LEAN FORWARD
AND BREATHE VERY SLOWLY LIKE BIRTHING A GHOST
WE HAVE SO MUCH IN COMMON, I THINK
There’s much to reap from The Drunk Sonnets even if you don’t often feel like throwing up at work, but especially if you do, you’ll want to give Daniel Bailey a read and then maybe have some beers with him.