Nancy Lili Gonzalez: The Last Book of Poetry I Loved, The Network

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Jena Osman’s The Network is the best freaking thing I’ve read all year!

Talk about brain arousal, wow. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It gave me nightmares the way falling asleep in school only could.

Osman takes Cecilia Vicuna’s advice to “enter words in order to see” and begins ripping apart language and threading stories and history back together with the aid of words in a way that history books would never consider. She invents maps, if you will, in a very weird yet methodical way. It’s as if she researched something, kept abstract notes, and then made what she learned into something more beautiful and slightly less tangible, poetry.

Michael Davidson says, “Rather than invent a world, [she] rubs history the wrong way in order to understand this one.” Mark Nowak points out how Osman “brilliantly excavates the material remains and missing histories of our collective semantic strata.” Tisa Bryant “really digs it” and by ‘it’ she means how Osman’s work is “multivalent.” I only take quotes from the book’s back cover because they express what I think so well. This book is so interesting– I hope I can effectively express my love for it.

Okay, from the beginning: I didn’t expect any books from The Rumpus for another week or two and had just begun to read some stuff for pleasure. I open the package and see the triangular structure on the cover of it: immediately turned off, “What is this, more awful hipster shit?” (Those triangles are hip. Did you know? Screw circles.) Then I saw the little red bubble that states how Osman was a National Poetry Series Winner, selected by the awesome Prageeta Sharma, and I had newfound hope for Osman. I assumed this book would be very similar to Carrie Fountain’s “Burn Lake” (another NPS Winner,  and my beloved poetry mentor). I began reading The Network and began falling further and further into the back alleys of my brain; it’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before.

Let me repeat that: It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before. That statement is both true and not true. I haven’t read anything like it, but there were sections that would remind me of poets like Richard Siken (Network 5: Mercury Rising) or Robert Hass (the long lines style). The way she breaks words apart, Latin roots into Old French into Modern English, for example, and how she uses lines to diagram the progression, that reminded me of the notes I’d take in high school. I mentioned earlier that Osman gave me nightmares; she did, in a good way.

Drinking a coffee with too much cream on the couch of my boyfriend’s house while he wood-worked in the garage, the woodcrafts creating the only noise I could hear, a dull hum, a lullaby, I read The Network and fell in and out of consciousness. Her ideas echoed in my brain, stories I’d never learned before about sugar and why it’s white or about joker laws or about men who went missing. These are the stories she tells in her poetry book. Each story gets its own chapter (well, it’s like a chapter, but not; each poem is a chapter, too– and I like how that works because it’s weird).

Each “chapter” deals with an issue at large made of one main story, but Osman splits the story into several different stories from history about certain locations or from the lives of certain people. “Network 4: Financial District” tells a tale with images of maps, an emphasis on New York street names, and on the progression of periodicals and commerce. It’s informative in a fresh way, a hip time traveling city tour guide.

Then there are the sections where she actually references herself– how she tells herself she’ll stop researching something, how she gets lost on a foggy road– and these moments are rare and asymmetrical. There’s also the last Network that seems to hint at an alternative dream world– it would seem asymmetrical, but it doesn’t because it’s just another example of how Osman creates maps and landscapes for the reader.

I like poetry that takes the reader somewhere. Many people read to escape. Those are the people who would like this book. I’m personally not much of an escaper (did I invent that word?) but that’s exactly who I was when I read this book. There’s nothing wrong with this book at all.

Osman created a fantastic book of poetry! I’d love for everyone to read it and discuss it with me. Am I blinded by the love? Even if you have no intentions of ever discussing Osman with me, I still suggest everyone read this book.

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Nancy Lili Gonzalez likes the flamenco dance of poetry, long drives by the countryside, late night talks, and double bacon cheese burgers. Until she becomes the next Billy Collins, she hustles coffee. And in her spare time, she doodles. More from this author →