FUNBRUARY: Justin Taylor on Jeremy Schmall

Books that are funny, the month that is the worst: Funbruary! (Previously: Matthew Gallaway, Karen Russell, and our own Douglas.) The latest entry is from Justin Taylor, author of The Gospel of Anarchy, which is just out and great, and the story collection Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever. He’s here tomorrow night.

“Welcome to the age of triage,” writes Jeremy Schmall. “Enjoy the pickles and keep the glass jar / for loose change.” I pulled these lines from somewhere near the middle of this book I love, called Jeremy Schmall and the Cult of Comfort, which is brand-new this Funbruary from X-ing Books. Now before we go any further you may as well know that Schmall’s a close friend, so if you’re the kind of person who gets all worked up about people speaking well of their friends, you might as well stop here. If, however, you believe–as I do–that subjectivity is a valid angle of approach to art (more honest yet than a lot of what passes as objectivity) then let’s talk about this Little Yellow Book with the radioactive smiley face on the cover, and the author’s own name in its title.

Jeremy Schmall and the Cult of Comfort is a dark, weird, smart, raucous, grimly hilarious collection. Not a howl but a growl–maybe from the throat, maybe from the stomach, maybe both. These quick and dirty open-faced poems take the familiar things of life–cubicles and calorie counts; shopping malls and booze–and remind us how strange they are; how strange we are for craving them, for having created them in the first place. “The police don’t want to work today / just as badly as you and your administrator. / The wife that once found me charming / now rarely finds me at all.” Individual poems are untitled but the book is broken into sections with names like “Tumbler full of imitation crab meat” and “Dog in a hot tub.” Schmall makes it safe for us to savor the fundamental obscenity of existence. In his warm arms we are free to laugh until we cry. 

But to end on my carefully confected little blurb-line is hardly in the spirit of The Cult of Comfort, so instead here’s the complete text of a short poem which kind of showcases all the stuff I’ve been talking about, and also contains shout-outs to a perhaps unlikely pair of poetical forebears. One’s John Ashbery. Bonus points if you get the other without googling. 

In the middle distance
a half derelict 
subdivision. The wet pavement.
Overgrowth breeding
condoms beside the street.
Clear bottle filled with urine
beside the vending machine.
Fingernail scars down the face.
Ex-girlfriend through shattered monocle.
Self-loathing in a convex mirror. 
Five knuckles atop a red onion.