"Pretty Flowers"

“Pretty Flowers” as, on the one hand, poetry reduced to its bare minimum—not a form, not even a contextual frame, but a mode of address. Just the act of speaking in public about things that are, not exactly private or personal, but certainly not public. As if Gabby Gabby has accidentally stood up in front of a room full of people expecting a political speech and not only does she not have anything prepared to say she’s not even running for any office, so this is what she comes up with on the spot, and there’s a sense of a high-wire act, of having to keep the audience distracted every second with nothing but breeziness and charm so that they don’t start asking questions, who is this person, how’d she get in here, why is her font pink? Like flirting your way through a lion’s den.

On the other hand, “Pretty Flowers” as quietly resonant with a literary tradition and engaged with some concept of nation, of a nation and in particular the United States as something too big but simultaneously essential to the self. The wish to go to every state fair, the half-forgotten song with the names of all fifty states, the split in the middle of Michigan, the identity and difference of Williamsburg VA and Williamsburg Brooklyn—all of these are like a frustrated desire to own one of Whitman’s epic catalogues, wanting “I am large, I contain multitudes” but instead feeling, “I am small, multitudes are only an abstract concept in my experience.” The vegan fantasy of a corndog, the fake Jefferson with his hand on her shoulder, the cut flowers (a picture of a picture on the book’s cover, which isn’t really a cover but the electronic representation of a cover for a book that isn’t a “real” book and isn’t really about flowers)—all like Stevens’s “not a bird for me / But the name of a bird.”

And everything—the sense of representation as frustrated presence, nation as frustrated extension of self, poetry as frustrated conversation—comes down in the end to the desire for personal connection irl, the wish to replace the poem with OK Cupid messages like O’Hara’s wish to replace the poem with a phone. The poet (and the Poet, in the abstract) finally coming clean and admitting that she doesn’t care about the audience (who could love an audience?), that the audience is just a means to an end, a medium to reach the person—she doesn’t need to know who—who’s going to answer back.