Is it cliché to say that a book is not just a book but also an experience? Okay. Yes. It is. But this statement has never felt truer than when reading Amy Pickworth’s debut poetry collection, Bigfoot for Women, winner of Orange Monkey’s 2013 book prize, judged by Matt Hart.
In this debut, Pickworth pairs traditional forms, like pantoum and erasure, with nuanced creations of family timelines and talk show interviews. The book can appeal to conventional poetry lovers, as she makes nods to Blake and Keats, while also attracting novices through colloquial and direct diction that even mocks the canon: “Hate Thoreau just a little when you learn / his mom packed his lunch, did all his laundry.”
Pickworth furthers this coupling of the traditional with modernity through her use of websites, such as Wikipedia and YouTube. In her author’s note, she writes that “a number of internet addresses are included in this manuscript, but the internet, like any healthy forest, is constantly changing. New things spring up as others die off. The links included here are breadcrumbs on the path.” The resulting adventure can entice anyone with access to a computer or smartphone. Bigfoot for Women is a book to give to students who say poetry is boring.
By providing these web addresses, the author allows people to experience Bigfoot for Women the way she intended, while also giving them the opportunity to join in the game as they so choose. Although my first reading wasn’t hindered by not searching the links, engaging in this activity after furthered my love of the poems and the collection overall. I hunted for hours, following the many breadcrumbs and “footprints pressed down / deep.” I began reading and Googling around 5pm and suddenly it was 10; I had not lost track of time from a book like that in quite awhile.
I obeyed all instructions. I watched clips that varied from Jane Goodall interviews to cheesy conspiracy sites to Jungian psychologists. I changed my Facebook profile picture to obscure images from Invasion of the Body Snatchers then to Duane Michal’s photo, Man as Spirit. I listened to The Velvet Underground while Google-imaging stills from the 1946 film Belle et la Bête. I learned about American explorers and bleeding heart baboons.
Often, Pickworth’s links are not labeled in any discernible manner, so I did not know where the next breadcrumb was taking me. I was wandering in the forest but in the best way possible: eager for whatever sight lay ahead.
Eight of the poems, labeled by track number, feature a URL. Below the link, the poem directs readers on how to listen to each song. Track 1:
Please do not focus on the Patti Smith
montage or think about how cool she is,
although, yes she is. Think about the words,
Some of these poems give specific instructions like above, others make statements. Track 4 simply reads: “Any kind of monster is your favorite.” (The address took me to Cat Power’s “Werewolf.”)
Some of my favorite sites to find corresponded with Pickworth’s erasure poems. Original texts range from other poems (both contemporary and canonical) to dream dictionaries. One uses words from Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in the 2003 film Bloom, another plays with Virgil’s Georgics. A few sites look cheap, pink font and flashing ads, but the poems written from them are just as insightful as anything else: “The human mind is not as perfect as / people seem to think.”
Balancing language from such campy places in the same book as words from Proust illustrates Pickworth’s ability to craft poetry from any location, connecting to different readers, or perhaps different parts of one reader. Within all of us is a Bigfoot and the Wife of Bath, a mother and a bastard. Pickworth finds poetry in everything:
There are also a few Bigfoot movies,
including bigfoot porn. This does exist.
While you don’t have to watch any of it,
it’s clear that you should know it’s in the world.
Throughout the book, Pickworth applies the mythology and language of Bigfoot to explore relationships. She employs this technique particularly with her father–“yes, my father is a bigfoot.” Yet, this discovery is not limited to just this connection. Bigfoot becomes everyone. Through images of him, Koko, and King Kong, among others, Pickworth furthers her motif, removing any sense of gimmick, to question both legend and self:
What do you think
it means, that we want Bigfoot to exist?
Or put it another way, what does what we
believe about Bigfoot say about us?
These questions become more revealing than any answers, as the book investigates what it means to be Other, to be spectacle. Many of the poems even repeat the word “something,” (“or something something about / refusing the bread of nostalgia”), portraying how difficult any type of comprehension or translation can be. The collection continually examines these ideas of definition and desire:
The German sehnsucht is such a good word.
It understands that sometimes the longing
means more than the longed-for thing itself.
Belief and the tangible intertwine in Bigfoot for Women until readers emerge questioning everything, which somehow feels more comforting than quick acceptance or dismissal. Bigfoot teaches us that there “is something being conveyed here about not being afraid to be alive and lonely in your body.” Amy Pickworth’s collection implores readers to hunt for Bigfoot in their homes or even become him, freeing themselves from label and legend to feel alive.