Normal Distance

Soft Skull. Sept. 2022. 112p. ISBN 9781593767334. pap. $16.95. POETRY
New York Times poetry columnist Gabbert (L’Heure Bleue), who writes free-verse poems that contemplate the thinking process, here tries to sort her thoughts which swarm like mosquitoes on a summer day into poetry. Some are lists of single lines or clever couplets that are ironic, pleasing to read, and often somewhat darkly humorous, as in the standout “About Suffering.” This Auden takeoff (from “Musée des Beaux Arts”) exquisitely ponders suffering, playing with notions like “suffer gladly”; only the final line (“About suffering, no one is ever wrong”) jars with its somewhat heavy-handed allusion to Auden. Others are strings of non sequiturs whose magic never quite comes through; the words either don’t try to make a connection or, if they do, their association is tenuous at best: “I want a house with a tree in it./ I want to wear lipstick in the woods.”
VERDICT Ultimately, Gabbert writes her memoir-like poems around quotidian events such as awakening from sleep, going shopping, and contemplating boredom, loneliness, or life during the pandemic, interspersing snappy comments like “Paper or plastic?” with profundities. All of which leaves readers on edge, which is Gabbert’s intention.
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