Sometimes, it’s easy to think of the poem as a conversation one might have in a bar. And sometimes, to follow the metaphor through, the poem is a surprising conversation, at once sweet and sexy and utterly—thank god—smart. So when I received Michael D. Snediker’s book The Apartment of Tragic Appliances recently and read his poem “Ganymede,” it was like that kind of unforeseen, invigorating first date.
The quick-moving prose poem begins, like most good narratives, by simultaneously giving the basic situation while also placing us, as intimate readers, actually into the that situation. “Ganymede” accomplishes this seamlessly: “When one decides past certain hours to go to SUBWAY (eatfresh) despite a decent earlier serving of asparagus vichyssoise, one thinks, I’ll feel a little less abject about the excursion if I travel with a nice accessory, for instance an envelope-sized Louis Vuitton satchel on whose veracity one has insisted on past occasions, although not this particular night.”
From the start, a positive affect of queer aesthetics—which Snediker’s theoretical work also dwells upon—is clear, brought to life here by the unexpected placement of a beautiful LV clutch before the plastic sneeze guard of a Subway fast food joint. The speaker knows this queerness, yes, and questions it both lyrically and relentlessly from the poesy’s beginning to end. It seems impossible to walk away from a poem, to not finish the conversation, with such endearing, witty assessments—“When one arrives at SUBWAY (eatfresh), one hopes for neither recognition nor blandishment beyond the sandwich.” Aye, sir, indeed; it is playful, yes, but some eternal truth lies here. It is the personification of ancient Ganymede into 2013: that mortal so utterly beautiful Homer tells us, like the Louis bag the speaker carries here, and yet, still mortal, not divine, like the speaker himself waffling between ordering the turkey or meatball sub.
The poem, as its title suggests, certainly relies on myth, but the illusory prowess Snediker is capable of does not stop there. In the three pages “Ganymede” spans, we move deftly from Lacan to Hawthorne, Wharton to Cavafy, Proust to Dickinson. This isn’t always a popular move to make in contemporary American poetics—talking about actual intellectual life, despite many, if not most, poets finding a home within academia—and yet, Snediker refuses to let these poems rest upon the everyday. They are not Ted Kooser’s poems, they are not asleep on a dock overlooking Lake Wobegon, and thank god. Here is a poem that is at once campy and smart—oh so smart—and apologizing for neither. And yet, the poem carries this intellectual weight in a sexy handbag to Subway, where it orders a sandwich.
Which is an emotionally-charged intellectual undertaking, we learn by the end of the verse—“And then the further harassment of what would you like on that. At this point (to keep from weeping), one says lettuce. One orders something, oh heartbreak for everything, without recalling what it is.” Regarding what Snediker has accomplished in Apartment, his first full-length collection, the poet Daniel Tiffany explains, “We have been missing poems like these for a long time.” It’s true, and completely apparent in the superlative “Ganymede,” one hell of a smart, sexy prose poem.
A poem that ends—like the most alluring of men—somehow both ambivalently and passionately, with Emily Dickinson looking down on the scene in this particular SUBWAY (eatfresh)—“Whatever she says at this point is up to whoever finds me holding you in hand, satchel over shoulder, Aeneas racooning through the dungeon gates.” Snediker has done just that here—racooned through the both the high and low—to forge a poem I can’t stop reading, I can’t leave behind at the bar, sulking over a whiskey sour, a poem I want to take home with me.