you are a little bit happier than i am
By Tao Lin. Action Books, $14.
Tao Lin’s poetry collection gracefully proves the theorem that nothing can be truly sad if it isn’t also funny. The title of this hilariously bleak volume is probably going to be a serious understatement for most readers. In “spring break,” for instance, Lin complains, “i go to the strand, buy three of the most depressing books i can find?/?which i know i’ll never finish because they won’t be depressing enough.” Apparently he had to go and write one sad enough to suit his own dour tastes.
And no poem in the collection serves as a mission statement better than “my favorite book of poetry right now”: “i want every poem to be weary with itself and afraid of the world?/?i want all the line breaks to be where you naturally pause?/?i want every last stanza to not be there and i don’t want any happy poems for variety?/?because that is selling out.”
Lin definitely doesn’t sell out. In the (typically) verbosely titled “book reviewers always praise books as ‘life-affirming’ because the more humans there are on earth the better,” the poet describes a QuickTime video of a bullfight. At the close, Lin sabotages what one can only assume was once a life-affirming end to his meditation: “and i deleted this line that was talking about god?/?and this line was also talking about god and it said something about the universe and i deleted it.”
Lin’s is a harsh, insular world of sadness (the word appears countless times throughout the slim volume), hopelessness and despondency. But for every ounce of drear and self-pity, Lin inserts an arresting aside: “this poem has all this between each stanza?/?…someone on the largest dose of tylenol cold in the history of the world falling off a sixty-story building at night.”—Jeb Gleason-Allured