ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Iterations of the Absurd: A Review of Ian Ganassi’s True for the Moment, by Bernie Earley


— “What can I do but enumerate old themes” (Yeats)

Ian Ganassi’s True for the Moment, enigmatic and intriguing, took me by surprise: what was I to think of the stream of non-sequiturs that baffled my sense of logic; then the cover art hit me: collage (Bell and Ganassi)! Liquid black (the unconscious?) rises to weathered floorboards, upon which lies a necklace, perhaps a “choker” looking like an abandoned piece of costume jewelry, and entangled shapes might metaphorically represent how the poems bend conventional language fragments into zany, hilarious, comic expressions that sometimes imply ridiculous situations, paralysis of logic, and startled thinking—all accomplished partly by pointing to dysfunctions within our human systems (medical, economic, linguistic, etc.) reduced to absurdity. “Funky Chicken” is a good example:

This train of thought is only
Disorienting my disorientation.
But it was fastest one I could get.

And in the same poem, we find: “For a good time swallow a metronome.”

This book is pun city, jester checked in, toting his spare pair of cap and bells, and his madness. Cultural bric-a-brac, a train of clichés, tired symbols, dead metaphors are transformed into cultivated pearls. The voice of the bricoleur is fresh and surprising. Poems in present tense, sometimes dialogic, strew seeming non-sequiturs: is this someone’s perpetual nervous breakdown, lunacy from the distant ward where tropes have lost their way? Daring leaps of consciousness, conceptuality and sensibility appear in wordplay, if not chiasmus. For instance, in the poem “No Time to Lose” we find these lines:

Pain and rage, rain and pain, worse and worse, better
And better. The bigger the life the shorter the tether.
Which has the advantage of being able to afford
Something away from which to run, and something toward.

Although bricolage may describe the nature of all language use (wherein speakers and writers use whatever is at hand or ready-made to mark identity), Ganassi’s technical control is exclusive. The artful construction of collage is consistently exquisite, and its excursion into meaning is open-ended, given the random and deviant ways Ganassi finds to stretch signifiers to absurdity, meanwhile often hinting of life’s common disrupters: time, change, mortality. For instance, in “Open Conspiracies”, we find:

It turned out to be sinus cancer, but by then it was too late.
If you can’t go right, you’ll have to go left.
Leave it to the doctors to screw with your fate.
There’s nothing to hide and less to confess.

True for the Moment, indeed implies that truth can be temporary, but isn’t it a poetic ideal that poetic discourse gives us “a temporary stay against confusion” (Frost)? Ganassi’s defense is to stop time with rimes and contain chaos in quatrains, the content of which suggests that vulnerability might be strengthened by the courage it takes to make human contact when the odds are weak:

But keep your eyes riveted on the brighter side;
We all get crucified at the end of the movie.
We all need someone to bleed on. We groped for
Each other in the dark. No guts no glory (“Lifeboat”).

Loss is obscured, left “off stage”, and such distancing is forgiving in and of itself, as uncertain despair is left vague but lightly traced in the “wings”, subconsciously, while conscious turns of line churn out ironies. Madcap and cynical of mundane chaos, Ganassi bends clichés, smashes trite cultural tropes with wit. Take the poem “Clown School”, especially the following lines:

Sex sells and socks smell. Socks also sell
And sex also smells. Their domains are not so well
Delineated. Isn’t it good Norwegian wood? Pay attention,
I’m asking you a question; don’t answer with condescension.

Peculiar juxtapositions evoke the surreal. Take for instance, “An Easy Fix”; its quick, off-hand, single-line deconstructions, suggest that chaos might be helped by accepting the notion that the world is always already desperate—get used to it! 

Let me give you a hand up.
I haven’t seen a pile like that in a long time.
The entire population of the seventh-floor smoking lounge.
It was getting even closer in there.
It smelled like a jakes.
Fight or flight for instance. No matter how much you have.

Debunking is continuous, often as a pastime or amusement. Ganassi trashes at least 122 preconceptions, with that many pages accruing an unknown number of attacks that point to discrepancies in concepts and/or references that we take for granted, including classical allusions. For instance, in the poem “The Gate of Ivory”, we find the lines:

Of thankless babysitting and the soul of sense. “Writing is an aid to memory”,
Like a hall of mirrors. Write out the declension 500 times. It’s senseless, the

Ganassi innovates with form, some of them handed down from our mentor, John Ashbery, who showed us ways to stimulate unconscious creativity. Translating hieroglyphics or a poem in Russian were favorites. Anyhow, Ganassi writes pantoums, villanelles, poems in rhymed and unrhymed couplets, tercets, (as well as free verse) etc.; he modifies if not invents forms. For example, “Lucky Seven” puts the “villanelle on steroids” (Ganassi) by using Abab//A’bab rime scheme, instead of the traditional AbA’ rime scheme, thus repeating a form like a villanelle, but longer and more manic. One readily concludes that form for Ganassi is a generative technique, used for decentering fixed meaning rather than a reinforcing of mainstream poetics.

These collages share in New York School’s affinity to abstract expressionist art, but they deviate in comic escapades. The trickster persona rattles ordinary subjects and their standard definitions, using bits and pieces of inherited language to form collage in standard form. “Limping In” is masterful villanelle: repeated lines reflexively signify the process of filling the form. Displaced properties like words sprinkled on the page, reflecting chaos and destruction like in “At the Atocha Station” (Ashbery) are not in this book! The Ganassi collage while respecting standard form, with variation, uses it to combat existential ennui subsumed in forms and formal techniques like paronomasia: “Someone not named Mary, true, / But neither is destiny and neither are you” (“And the Wind Cries”).  Moreover, consequent of the line by line build up, coiled, emotive and sometimes confessional narratives,  “gestural” in some places, advance  stroke by singular stroke:

This afternoon is drowsy with a will.
And so I never.
Things have a way of getting out of radio range.
It was mysterious where God was coming from.
But Nietzsche is dead (“Empty Dictionary”).

To the benefit of collage, end-stopped lines strengthen rhythm and suspend an original imagination that transforms the old “object” taken for granted, but lightly hallucinated in “Cat Nap”, for example, that clinches the fun of nuance: “ I imagine the cat watching from the corner/Whereas in fact she is in the other room.” “Room?” Hints of immobility and isolation find resigned contentment in the frequent practice of chiasmus: “Nowhere is the beginning of somewhere, /And somewhere is the beginning of nowhere” (“Relay Race”). How to presume...?

Footpath? I can barely make it to the grocery store.
Round and round and round it goes, and then you die.
But this is no authority for the abuse of cheese (“Detailed Generalities”)


The poems build steadily; rhythmically balanced phrasings and line breaks please like music. A conga may well be at work (Ganassi is a retired percussionist). No sweat—disjunct stanzas leave breathing space for “abyss”, if you will, which adds meaning, enhancing reference to the ridiculous.  Tip: One might read these poems like in an Einstein field, a stage or frame in which words are propelled percussively.

Alterity rules the book’s sensibility and rouses reevaluation of the language that control behavior: these poems open the conceptual lock on the metaphors (cf. Lakoff and Johnson) and free up commonplace notions that are deadbeat. Renewed expressions act as comic relief of the ennui of use and reuse, if not abuse, of meaning, “The malady of the quotidian…” (Stevens).

No ordinary prankster, Ganassi is a true jester, a carefree guide out of the dead-end shop of taxes and utility bills. Moreover, its reductions ad absurdum may well be a temporary ameliorative of inferences of doom. In epoch Anthropocene, “The piano has been drinking” (Waits); for lack of one’s favorite beverage, this book might well suffice, although the poem, “Losing Battle”, leaves us pessimistically hoping without hope: “… Living in the wrong/Century is a letdown, and every century is the wrong one.” Let’s not forget to laugh!


Works Cited:

Ashbery, John. “At the Atocha Station”. The Tennis Court Oath. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1967.

Bell, Laura, and Ian Ganassi. “Statin Island Squiggle”. Cover Art: True for the Moment. Cincinnati: David Robert Books, 2023.

Frost, Robert. “The Figure a Poem Makes”. Collected Poems of Robert Frost. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1939.

Ganassi, Ian. Email, 10.14.23

True for the Moment. Cincinnati: David Robert Books, 2023.

Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson. “Everyday Language”. Philosophical Perspectives on Metaphor. Ed. Mark Johnson. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985.

Stevens, Wallace. “The Man Whose Pharynx Was Bad”. Poems by Wallace Stevens. New York:  Vintage Books, 1959.

Waits, Tom. “The Piano Has Been Drinking”. Small Change. Asylum Records,1976.

Yeats, William Butler. "The Circus Animals' Desertion". The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1966.

Author Bernie Earley (PhD Binghamton U., 1996) has published two chapbooks: “Biker Poems” (1987) and “13 Poems” (2002). His translation of “Beckett for the Last Time” appeared in Concourse 7. His poems and/or reviews have appeared in Moira, Home Planet News, Talisman, and, recently, Otoliths. Earley was a contributor to Encyclopedia of New York School Poets (2009). He taught writing and/or poetry at UC Davis, Brooklyn College, CUNY Baruch, and at SUNY Cortland where he was full-time lecturer; he teaches writing online to local and international students enrolled at TC3 in Dryden, NY.

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