Whatever and it’s yours: Present-day vertigo in Ander Monson’s “The Available World”

BY COREY VAN LANDINGHAM

andermonson1-150x150Ander Monson is an American novelist, poet, and nonfiction writer. Monson’s first two books, the novel Other Electricities and the poetry collection Vacationland, were published in 2005. His nonfiction debut, Neck Deep and Other Predicaments: Essays was published in February 2007. It was critically acclaimed for its imaginative reworkings of the form of the essay.

Willfully contemporary, Ander Monson doesn’t shy away from Tang, etch-a-sketching, Wil Wheaton, zombies, voyeur-cams and video games in his second collection of poetry, The Available World. This is the kind of listing, of clumping together, that is gleaned from the epigraph for the second section, Availability, describing the Japanese video game Katamari Damacy:

The prince rolled them all up, rolled and
rolled, until the katamari was big enough
to be lifted up to space to replace the shiny
stars that were so grievously lost. And that,
dear friends, was the plot and purpose of the
fabulous game called Katamari Damacy.

These poems are charming without trying to be, sincere without seeming childish or reductive. At times the world for these speakers is too available, too accessible: “This is the age / of so much, and boom! It appears in a dream.” And this is what Monson weaves throughout his entire collection: the contemporary world, the digital world, the simulated world. Through sermons and elegies, odes, narratives, and high lyrics that run the gamut of celebration and irreverence, loss and sheer liveliness, the reader is at once aware that the speakers’ realm, here, is “unconnected // and glorious.”

Monson often creates his own kind of epoché, a brief suspension of judgment. Yes, there is over-consumption: “Always more of everything, an answer / for questions on which wine to choose / with farm-raised salmon.” Yes, there is an abundance of simulation: “for you, a trip; you will be led on hundreds of trips / through buildings or men in the act of building / virtual worlds or regular worlds.” And everything seems fleeting: “Off and gone and elegy / in less than a second.” But these poems show that you can be at once in horror and in love with the world.

And perhaps this suspension of judgment, this hovering between worlds, is why Monson returns to Icarus throughout the book: as a way to access all our frivolity, faith, and loss. Icarus is a stand-in for Wil Wheaton, a partner in a slow dance, just another body in a catalogue:

Like that grand paint ball in Indiana
each layer a parenthesis, a fist
…… ….closing around a string
…………………(that stands in for a body, anybody’s body,
…………………your body, my lover’s, Icarus’s, a video
…………………game replication of a body as it strides online

Icarus seems to be just one more body to be rolled up and lifted. Forget myth. Forget wings. He is a vehicle for some contemporary version of hope (if we’re still allowed to talk about that small thing).  If it is a replication of hope, so be it. These poems might seem to resist the notion of simulating experience, but a closer look will reveal less of a shrug, and more of a grin. Most readers can empathize with putting on something surreal—an RPG? Tofu? Wings?—not to escape the world, but to see it from a different angle.

The young Icarus, implanted into the 21st century, might have said something similar to the Berrymanesque speaker in “For Orts”: “And I like / information, virtuality. & yes I desire it yes, So / overfull that I am glistening with it, that I appear—”

Just appear. That seems important here. As in: if not this, what else? Melt?

Hopefully, like Katamari Damacy, this will be a sleeper hit.

The Available World
Ander Monson
Sarabande Books, 2010
978-1-932511-83-3
65 pages
$14.95 paperback

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Corey Van Landingham is an MFA candidate at Purdue University. Originally from Oregon, she appreciates the crazy Indiana sunsets and the ridiculous amount of corn. But she misses the ocean. Oh, the ocean…