Book Reviews

Emily Pettit’s Goat in the Snow

Goat in the Snow by Emily Pettit

© Birds LLC, 2012

Emily Pettit has previously published two chapbooks before publishing her debut book of poems, Goat in the Snow. She is an editor at both notnostrums, an online journal of poetry and fiction, and Factory Hollow Press, a small press out of Hadley, Massachusetts. She also teaches at Flying Object whose mission is “to provide a range of resources, opportunities and education to writers, artists, musicians, and publishers both locally and nationwide.” Goat in the Snow mixes high and low language, logical statements with humor, and contains within its 63 pages some of the most provocative and equally absurd poetry out there.

Each poem is unpredictable, as if the reader is following trains of thought through a dark forest and suddenly there’s a burst of light from above. The book is threaded together by a number of different elements. First, many of the titles are “How to” do something. Some of the best are downright hilarious like “How to Hide an Elephant.” Second, Pettit has crafted the poems with several different registers, mixing the colloquial with the intellectual. In the title poem “Goat in the Snow”: “We like to think of shipwrecks / as beautiful fuck-ups / and that goats’ eyes are the secret to goats.” presents the reader with the image of shipwrecks, juxtaposes the words “beautiful” and “fuck-ups,” and makes the reader ponder on goats’ eyes. These three lines are just one example of the many wonderful moments in Goat in the Snow. It would be hard to put a label on these poems, as each poem represents its own themes, devices, and humor. Perhaps they are connected much the same way brain synapses are connected, firing at each other in harmony and discord.

Many of the poems are stichic creatures, though Pettit deviates occasionally from this throughout the book. Formally, these poems are free verse and contain the same shape, meaning most of the time the line length is the same. This doesn’t mean the poems are boring in any regard. In fact, they are more interesting than most poems trying to create shapes or are gimmicky formally with too much rhyming or meter. The meat of Pettit’s work is in the content and juxtaposition of disparate opposites. She is constantly playing with the mind and making the reader think. She urges that, “Things are uncomfortable / and that’s a good thing.” in “How to Find Lost Objects.” Within that space of discomfort true creativity happens. The speaker of each poem is playing with the reader, toying with him or her. “I know you don’t want an umbrella, but here’s an / umbrella. And here’s another umbrella. And another. / Another. Another.” in “How to Hide from Another” the speaker has an unending supply of umbrellas and is burying the reader in them.

A masterful balance between absurdity and intellectual foreplay, Goat in the Snow represents the hinge between the mind and poetry. This hinge, like those found in modern art, make the spectator step back a moment, tilt their head to the side, and go “huh” as if the air had been knocked out of them.

Goat in the Snow available for purchase here.

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