How do we know what we know ’til we learn what we’ve learned? Once upon a time I fashioned myself to be one of those thinkers who, as I sophomorically put it, “find the deep in the superficial.” When I write that Robyn Schiff’s second poetry collection surpasses all of my heavy thoughts of mundane, I mean it as an intense compliment. Schiff makes connections to references I think only experts in the field would know about. Certainly no one else would have this uncommon knowledge of the history of pre-fabricated steel, Singer sewing machines, and the marriage of Elizabeth Colt. I think Schiff might actually know everything about all.
Then I become a responsible reader and typed out a Google search, and more than five really obscure hits pop up, which is what I expected, having the “no one can possible know what I don’t” attitude. So I realize there are three possibilities: everyone knows what I do not, everyone has read Revolver and has had to look these things up, or everyone is obsessed with trivia. Obviously, the first is false. Unfortunately, so is the second (but maybe this article will speed things along in that arena). The third makes the most sense. Trivia, in this case, is everything that is not related to what the individual considers non-trivial. To dissect this, nothing could then be considered trivial. As Schiff points out (by showing–she doesn’t tell us a thing) all references are connected through history, and history itself is connected, dynamic, and malleable to specific purposes.
An example of the connections between ideas is during “Dear Ralph Lauren,” when my world collapsed for the second time in MLM-related-fashion history. Combined with the first, namely that Ralph Lauren is really Ralph Lifshitz, Schiff leads me to the bit of historical trivia pertaining to the origin of Volkswagen. Schiff then goes on to tie Porches, guns, breeds of dogs, and clothing patterns around to end back at her initial address. But I cannot forget the entire time that I’m wearing all Polo and my dear little Clover is apparently a Nazi car—yet I love her, and so I rationalize. Of course I’m not surprised –German car makers during the mid-20th century would not have been Semitic-friendly. I’m reminded of the sentiment Larry David so aptly described when asked why he was so affectionate to his friend’s German Shepherd, “It’s not every day you get to be affectionate around something German, it just doesn’t happen that often,” and again I am left with a sense that Schiff writes of ordinary objects having innumerable connections, touching those around us that we don’t even consciously realize for the un-ordinary mind.
Robyn Schiff did not write the poems in Revolver for the masses, although it may appear that is who she is trying to reach (as though she might wish to enumerate our pinpoints of contact rather than our disconnect and decided differences.) Instead, she writes to those who either have the background knowledge she references (with both the memory to recall events & items and the intelligence to make the at times difficult connections), or to those who are willing to search for the references and study for the connections. Either way, she panders to the devoted reader, the individual who is grasping for forward knowledge from the past, but not the casual reader. I appreciate the effort she demands.