DOWN SPOOKY by SHANNA COMPTONJOSHUA COREY reviews
Down Spooky by Shanna Compton
(Winnow Press, Austin, TX, 2005)
[Review first printed in Cutbank #65. Editor Brandon Shimoda, 2006]
If melancholy is the index of authenticity in American poetry, then Shanna Compton’s Down Spooky is a very inauthentic book indeed—or as Compton writes in “My Huge Napoleon,” “Violators of these depth prescriptions / may be unsubscribed. But does it matter? / He’ll mature into silliness.” She is that rare creature, an exuberant minimalist: though few of her poems are longer than a page, they are compressed and crammed with wordplay and wit. The first line of her bio says it all, really: “Born and raised in Texas, Shanna Compton has lived in Brooklyn, New York since 1995.” She combines West and East, bringing an acute sense of place (places, rather: the Duane Reade and the BQE; St. John Parish in Louisiana and a high school band parade in Texas) reminiscent of C.D. Wright. But like Wright (or Caroline Knox, who contributes a blurb to the back cover), Compton’s truest allegiance is to words and their uncanny ability to manufacture a community of meanings out of the barest possible contexts. The speed of her associations produces a kind of delirious whiplash in the reader, as in the case of “Post-Texas Expressive Heat,” quoted here in full:
Your mother put a
fan in the oven,
he said, to cool
it down. That’s right
the door is open
and on it sits
a little fan, blowing.
I am a little
fan, she says, an
ardent fan, a big
fan of yours. Whew.
That clever, cartoony “Whew” conceals itself behind many of Compton’s poems like the quick sly grin of the cat who got the cream. It often seems apt to compare these poems to cartoons and comics: three- or four-panel affairs offering the immediate pleasures of strong lines and good jokes, but rewarding closer examination with the fine detail of their crosshatching and the exquisite syntax ordering the panels. The latter quality is on display in “The Woman from the Public,” which alternates a seemingly straightforward confessional narrative in lines of Roman type with incantatory italicized lines, the whole adding up into a decisive sketch of the risks run by a woman claiming her right to compose “the public.” Nervy and syncopated, Down Spooky proves that you don’t have to prove your seriousness to create authentic experience in language. Or as “My Huge Napoleon” concludes, asking of its titular character, “Why can’t he just admit / pleasure is inevitable?”
Joshua Corey is the author of two collections of poetry, Selah and Fourier Series, and keeps a blog at http://joshcorey.blogspot.com.