Michael A. Arnzen, Dying (Tachyon Publications, 2003)
Just after I finished Michael Arnzen’s Dying, a chapbook-sized spoof of Martha Stewart’s Living, I was mildly amused by it. It’s solid writing—Arnzen obviously knows his way around a poem—but while you can craft till the cows come home, if you don’t have the art, you’ll never get anywhere in the poetry biz. And there wasn’t anything that really crackled in the words here. They were good, but they were nothing special.
Thirty minutes later, I thought about some phrase or another Arnzen had used in one of these poems and chuckled a bit.
Another hour passed, and something else struck me, and I got an attack of the giggles.
From there, it turned into the infamous giggle loop, and by the end of the night I was in hysterics. I’d finally figured out what Arnzen was doing here, and it’s hilarious. At the risk of being a spoiler, what I had missed the first time around was Arnzen’s absolutely deadpan lampooning of Martha Stewart’s prose style (which she mirrors so effortlessly in her speech, something that never fails to amaze me), which is so spot-on it’s almost frightening. And the more I thought about it, the funnier it got. I went from thinking “this is okay, I’d read it again” to “this is a work of minor brilliance,” and I’m still at the latter point. This was, unfortunately, a limited chapbook, put out a decade ago and most likely long out of print now, but if you stumble upon a copy at your local reseller of the finer volumes, grab it like it’s a writhing, nubile Medusa who’s been in prison for the past five years and hasn’t so much as smelled a man and hold on for dear life. It’s goooooooooood. ****