Rome is doggerel. Reading the book is torturous, so complete is its lack of wisdom, imagination, and valor of insight; not even the vapid James Franco has gotten as close as Lasky to penning a would-be script for TMZ. It is near the nadir of poetry’s possibilities. The (hereby established) micro-micro standard of 500 words feels like 470 too many.
Yet not to spend a few moments on Rome is tantamount to an acquiescence, considering its placement on many ‘best of’ lists for 2014. (Here’s a final lesson to ignore ‘best of’ lists.) Let’s thus dip toes, just for an instant, into the feckless pink puddle made by these poems’ half-life.
One might learn to leave off Rome for the blurb-dribble marking its endpapers. O yes, ‘wildly human,’ why yes, ‘blood red realness.’ Are we being hastened to pick up a book of poems or replay a snippet of the runway from RuPaul’s Drag Race? Please. The Yeats epigraph is likewise a bait-and-switch, whether chosen by Lasky with felt intent or not. From the first poem, “Hunters”:
Now when I try to eat an animal, I hear crying
—from a grammar school diary this is poignant; from a book of poems it is embarrassingly basic. And it is this allowance Lasky gifts her speakers, again and again—the allowance to stand pat, wagging, in sunglasses, cosmetic, without a whit of probing depth—that undoes what spirit drove her to write. From “Why poetry can be hard for most people”:
It has its own intentions
And is searching for that perfect bag of potato chips like you once were
Because life is no more important than eating
Or talking someone into fucking
‘[T]hat perfect bag of potato chips’—now there‘s achievement. This vulgarity and constant reference to foodstuffs and popular constructs pretends to be an assiduous in-your-face refusal to remove poetry from the everyday. Do not be fooled: it is simply a lack of vision. Lasky’s speaker retreats to ‘the sour flower of my vagina / Ruins everything’ because she cannot manage more than rote metaphor, sing-song rhyme, and cliché; the poem “I am Eddie Murphy” overflows with gratuitous, explicit sex-reference (‘ten young men / Suck my gigantic dick / For two hundred hours’) because it prefers the easy mastery of veneers and list-form verse; as “Diet Mountain Dew,” as “I Feel Pity,” as the title poem in ten parts, each more grasping and trite than the previous. The entire bit has the smell of a thrice-used undergarment.
Be warned: this book is li’l’ po-biz ladder-climbing, that ten-rung gig that offers an unobstructed view of what every po-bizzer wants most: an oversized mirror. These are its fruits.
Rome is so deep a betrayal of the ambitions of literature that it ceases to be poetry. Instead, it is a meme without pictorial referent to land its punchline. There is no greater tragedy than losing a tree to print such searchless inconsequence.