Any archaeologist will tell you that you learn the most about any culture by what it throws away. In her new book of poetry, The Takeaway Bin, Toni Mirosevich takes the odds and ends of our post-analog language and sends them through a mystical generator inspired by Oblique Strategies, a dilemma-based game invented by Peter Schmidt and Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno (aka Brian Eno, godfather of ambient music.)
Writerly gamesmanship, in the hands of a lesser poet, might alienate the reader- offering a wink and an ironic jab to the hopes with which many readers approach poetry: to be compelled, surprised, expanded in some way. But Mirosevich is more than worthy of the task: handed a dilemma, she neither plunges her head into the sand, offering up easy but empty salvos, nor takes the academic chicken-exit, barricading herself behind impenetrable and inaccessible word-play. What Mirosevich does is demonstrate that there is a sweet spot in poetry where wit, defiance, warmth and irreverence embrace:
“No one told the bird dogs. Their eagle eyes spot the morning dove and they start up. The neighbor yells “noise pollution!”and before you can say Jiminy Cricket someone else joins to pollute the argument. “You’re polluted,” she said to her hubby when he returned from the bar with six pints in him. She’d been fuming in silence on the couch, waiting for the big shebang which never came. The neighbor calls for her orange tabby, Fluffy, Fluffy,and when that doesn’t work, screams Fluffy, you prick! and the holy night is broken.”
But Mirosevich isn’t just playing just for play’s sake: beneath the wit, beneath the snappy turns of sentence, arch reversals, and tumbling teases, the rumble of deeper workings can be felt. The Takeaway Bin arises out of an ultramodern language aftermath: the fragments and shards of language we are currently left with in an age of verbal foreshortening, where Photoshop has imploded the failsafe idea that “seeing is believing,” and Wikipedia has shifted the idea of fact into the realm of a constantly updating consortium. This melee of reference points is the Takeaway Bin’s fuel, and the profound plasticity of modern reality is the engine Mirosevich harnesses:
“Even though it would be nice… to go buck naked into the world… there are veils and shadows and shadow puppets in the firelight glow, someone’s hands all over the strings, ghosts who manipulate… the past is clearly no longer of use… yet what is no longer serviceable clearly persists, like a cough, or a mangle.”
Mirosevich has a bat-girl-worthy toolbelt, hung with sing-song sayings, back-woods phraseology, drunk-uncle slurrings, pop-lyric retorts, nautical arabesques, down-home cliches and uber-intellectual tongue-twisters: each of which she snaps, skins, and tosses into Eno & Schmidt’s machine, which is really a helmet the poet dons in order to unthink the norm.
“…somehow a slight infraction became an infarction, we turned one cheek, then the other, and soon we were spinning, face forward, then butt ugly. It’s a vertiginous life,said the prophet, a guy who’d lost his footing more than once. Before we could stand upright someone stepped on our knuckles, shove came to shove, and we went ape over the debate, creationism versus crustaceanism. You say you want an evolution, well, we all want to change the world. “He was a cretin,” Eve, said, after her first date with destiny, “a fumbler, a stumble bum.”
What comes out is heartfelt nose-thumbing. Flippant and sincere, showboating and shadowboxing, sincerity and shrugs: Mirosevich is sifting through the rubble and word-noise of language and cultural legacy and coming back with a hollaback that though all thought seem pre-thunk, though all feelings used, all insights, conclusions and hopes at times seemingly mass-produced, all words only rearrangements of the same few letters, and therefore all meaning seemingly mere rearrangements of the same few words– the key is in remembering who is steering this juggernaut:
“Question what is handed down, deconstruct, then sand it down… Toss aside the roof, the joists, the rafters… Sweep the darkened closet clean: of moon boots, bow ties, leisure wear… all garb in which you cannot move.”
At the heart of The Takeaway Bin is a twinned idea: that reclamation and invention are not opposites, but parts of the same process, that all that distinguishes junk from jewels is the process of seeing anew.
The Takeaway Bin
by Toni Mirosevich
(55 pages/Spuyten Duyvil/ New York City 2010)