“This deadpan and occasionally brilliant debut feels less like one book than like a sheaf of short projects, united by the poet's sensibility, her light touch, and her advanced tastes... [continued in Reviews below]”—Publishers Weekly
A brilliant debut collection that addresses human use of imagination as a means of displacement
Simultaneously sad and funny, Jennifer Denrow’s California, explores the obsessive nature of humanity while calling into question how we create our own realities. Using image repetition as a tool to emphasize obsessions, Denrow’s narrators range from a woman fixated on California to a ventriloquist and his dummy that instructs “You’re allowed to move your lips. / I will teach you to become human…” These are poems occupied with imagination, and how we use our imagination to navigate our worlds.
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Reviews / Endorsements
This deadpan and occasionally brilliant debut feels less like one book than like a sheaf of short projects, united by the poet's sensibility, her light touch, and her advanced tastes. The title poem follows, in many short bits of prose, the thoughts of a character--perhaps a stay-at-home mom--who wishes to change everything about herself: "My life in California will be inspiring. I'll send postcards to people who didn't know I was going...I'll buy a guitar once I arrive." If the effect here strongly resembles John Ashbery's famous poem "The Instruction Manual," Denrow's next project, a set of very short, flirtatious poems made wholly of short words, calls to mind instead James Schuyler: "Most of the time, waking./ All sky. Beside yourself,/ someone who resembles/ leaving." Denrow (a Ph. D. candidate at the University of Denver) concludes with a thoroughly strange, and thoroughly entertaining, third sequence, a set of evasive page-long personal letters between the famous ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy Charlie McCarthy. "Dear Edgar,/ The salesman is a place I go often," one page begins: the next opens, "Dear Charlie,/ I watch the birds at the window; they last/ so short a time." Very much a first collection, Denrow's book could prove important in retrospect: her whimsy, her way with white space, and her way of straddling lines between lyric poetry and avant-garde fiction could please not only fans of (for example) Ashbery, but also devotees of (say) Thalia Field.—Publishers Weekly
“I have loved Jennifer Denrow’s poems since the first moment I read them....these poems embody a kind of ipseity, a wholeness in the scattering….there are times when these poems feel like my best friend.”—Eleni Sikelianos
“In Jennifer Denrow's California, California doesn't exist so it devastates us. It's like heaven that way: it's there just to remind us that we're already dead. In fact, very little is real in these obsessive poems—not the sky, not anything in it. We are just vowels amplified through a microphone full of throats.”—Zach Schomburg
From the Book:
After It’s Gone
See how there’s
nothing. If you put a magician out here,
he’d disappear. As the sky mentions
the mountains, it recedes.
I know because I keep
seeing it even though I don’t mean to.
I’ll tell the birds
how it’s all a mistake.
They fly into me and then struggle
JENNIFER DENROW is the author of two chapbooks. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Denver.