Why I Chose Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s Rocket Fantastic for the Rumpus Poetry Book Club

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Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s third collection, Rocket Fantasticis a beautiful book which asks the reader to live in a world where gender and language are both fluid and linked together in a dance which swings, sways, and surprises at every turn. I’ve been a fan of Calvocoressi’s work for a long time, having taught both her previous books on several occasions, and it gives me great joy to say that this is her best collection to date.

Before I tell you more, a quick reminder that in order to receive your early copy of Rocket Fantastic, read along with the Poetry Book Club, and participate in our exclusive chat with Gabrielle Calvocoressi, you’ll need to to subscribe by July 20!

Let’s talk for a moment about the Bandleader, represented by a segno in the text. In her note to the reader, Calvocoressi says,

It represents a confluence of genders in varying degrees, not either/or nor necessarily both in equal measure. It is simultaneously encompassing and fluctuating, pronounced by me with the intake of breath when a body is unlimited in its possibilities.

Here’s where I admit I have no idea what that really sounds like, because I’ve never felt unlimited in my possibilities, but I found myself, when reading the poems where the segno appears, switching between a sort of groaning exhale and just saying to myself, “the Bandleader,” which made me a more active reader than I might have been otherwise.

It’s a choice I had to make often, because the segno appears often (and I’m having some trouble recreating it here in WordPress, so forgive this replacement symbol). For instance, in the poem “%’s huge. Standing there in the woods,” notice how your experience of the poem changes if you exchange the exhale with “the Bandleader.” Also note that Calvocoressi uses “whose” as a possessive pronoun throughout the book.

% was the clearing

% took the clearing up and stood there

still and watched me ’til I saw whose

I saw whose shoulders first and then whose neck.

I think % was so golden in the sun I

didn’t know what % was. And I thought:

the branches were whose horns.

No matter how I read it, whether as exhale or as “the Bandleader,” I find myself focusing on who the Bandleader is, and how I imagine them in my mind. But because Calvocoressi is so consistent in her usage of this symbol, combined with the use of “whose” as a possessive (which reinforces the question of gender as connected to the Bandleader), I have a hard time imagining anything concrete—and I suspect that’s the point. It’s a way of reminding us that gender, no matter how much some politicians and activists would like to fix it like a star in the firmament, refuses to be limited in such a way.

There’s a lot more to talk about in this book. But I aim to offer a glimpse, a taste, something that will make you want to subscribe to the Rumpus Poetry Book Club by July 20, get your copy of Rocket Fantastic before anyone else, and participate in our exclusive chat with Gabrielle about it.

I hope to spend the month of August talking with you about the Bandleader, and all the rest…


Brian Spears's first collection of poetry, A Witness in Exile, is now available through Louisiana Literature Press, and at his personal website. He is the Poetry Editor for The Rumpus, and teaches poetry at Drake University. More from this author →