I am not entirely convinced that Roxane Gay is a single entity. I intend to find out at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, where she will sit for panels and interviews on both Saturday and Sunday, March 22 and 23
What My Hair Says About You, by Laura Theobald. Metatron, 2016. $14, 96 pages.
The speaker of Laura Theobald’s poems is not having a good time. In “dumpster” she begs: “will someone please / throw me into that dumpster / i’m finally ready / to be still / & moth-eaten.” Her poetry is equal parts ridiculous, and ridiculously sad—in “confused what kind of animal i am,” Theobald writes, “i’m a flamingo / which is a kind of joke / the lawn ornament / of the animal world.”
What My Hair Says About You, Theobald’s first full-length collection, was released in October on Metatron. Previous works by Theobald include a chapbook entitled Edna Poems (Lame House 2016), and the highly entertaining The Best Thing Ever (Boost House 2015), a collection of poems written using the predictive text feature on Theobald’s iPhone.
Theobald writes like the internet. Her poems are without punctuation, and one of the only capitalized words in the book is “DOOM,” which is written in all caps. It falls in the middle of a poem called “fold”: “i think DOOM / i think / like / death.” And Theobald’s poems do, indeed, seem to think like death.
This isn’t a book to give to a lover, or at least, not a book to give to a lover you don’t want to terrify. With titles like, “sex is weird,” and lines like “the togetherness / that is sometimes less / sometimes more awful / than being alone,” Theobald’s work probes into the nature of intimacy, and questions the substance of the distance between people. In Theobald’s work, nothing is romanticized. Sex is just sex, which more often than not means using someone else’s body as a hiding place. She writes, “when i pull you out of / my cunt / we are living together / in a crummy apartment.”
There is a decidedly millennial aspect to Theobald’s poetry. Her use of contemporary slang and syntax display a keen insight into the ways we communicate with and understand our bodies, each other, and ourselves in the 21st century. Speaking of her own body, the speaker of “sex is weird” asks “are you aware of my blood / it means / i have a permanent wound / lol.” Theobald’s work couches deeply serious questions of identity, gender, sex, love, and loss in familiar terms to millennial readers, often to humorous effect, such as in “the south.” She writes: “i go to a thing / where nobody knows me / then to another thing / where nobody knows me / cool.” And yet, contrasted with lines of such pure and effortless beauty as “in the concavity of / your hipbone / just there / is where i die,” from “it’s ok,” Theobald’s moments of postmodern whimsy become suddenly foreign, surprising us with the strangeness of our own vernacular.
Yet, there is more to Theobald’s work than sex and sadness, more at stake here than iMessage acronyms. In What My Hair Says About You, Theobald forges irony, wit, sadness, and self-awareness into something new, strange, and lovely. Theobald writes with gentle force, pushing her poems into the space between reader and writer, as much in an attempt to bridge the gap between the two as to illustrate its boundaries. In What My Hair Says About You, that gap takes many different shapes: sex, love, and poems about both and neither. Theobald writes,“i think beauty should be / worth / a lot more,” and she’s onto something there, but if that were the case, What My Hair Says About You would cost a lot more than fourteen dollars.
Jo Gehringer is from Omaha and lives in New Orleans. They are the author of two self-published chapbooks, Anonymous/American (2015), and Screaming at Birds (2016). Their work has appeared in Paper Darts, Spy Kids Review, MICRO//MACRO, The Soul Stoned, New Bile, and elsewhere. They tweet at @JosephGehringer, and they love you, like, a lot.