Bimboland

by Erin Taylor

reviewed by K. B. Thors

Bimboland, the debut poetry collection from writer Erin Taylor, offers a billboard-esque title that functions at once as subject commentary, content disclaimer, and welcome sign. Casual reportage and first-person stylings describe a young writer’s contention with labor markets and messy relationality against the poet’s formless plane: “I became in the era of the Internet / [ … ] every thought is known every nude / stored on the Cloud somewhere.” Though arising from the body, Bimboland is an airy realm, seeking—and skeptical of—solid ground.

This is not to say Bimboland is unanchored. Taylor’s poems map New York City, a setting where “the view from the window / out of your apartment is wealthy.” In its quotidian composite—where the New York School meets the Very Online—Bimboland reads as a sex worker’s Lunch Poems mixed with a #commie milk and honey. Ranging through media platforms, the poems hover between diary entry and public post: “sexual liberation is a lie, send tweet.” Poems like “dead girls 100% off” call to mind the confrontational work of Cate Marvin, which follows Plath’s White, educated “Daddy” poetics. While Taylor is not in direct conversation with this lineage, their blunt language reflects common realities, particularly those of femme vulnerability and sexual economy.

A louder similarity lies between Taylor’s work and that of Russian Futurist Vladimir Mayakovsky, who shared Taylor’s penchant for exclamation points. This likening is nearer to hand due to Bimboland’s self-identification—a dedication reads “for Peter Kropotkin and Kathy Acker / my parents.” Whereas Mayakovsky’s punctuation in A Cloud in Trousers emphasizes passion, Taylor’s is used to downplay meaning, neutralizing evocative phrases before they get too earnest. In Bimboland we find “things no one wants to hear about like my pain or my anxieties!” Or the admission that “there are several dogs in heat in my dreams / lately / I question the use in dreams!”

This syntactic defense makes emotional and economic sense, keeping the reader and writer both from feeling too much. The poem “doing ketamine off a cross with the virgin, Madonna” observes, “it’s hot to avoid my feelings at the fun party.” Besides being dangerous and uncool, caring doesn’t pay. Depreciating repartee is an apt play on the idea of a Bimboland, presenting vacancy as an act that can bolster one’s sense of agency in a world where such exercise seems futile.

The intentionality of Bimboland’s blasé tones becomes less certain as the collection progresses. Respecting the book’s reticence to let readers in, one wonders if it would benefit from a tighter table of contents as repeated sardonic notes begin to feel like opportunities missed. The most powerful moments in the book happen when Taylor allows emotionality into the text, particularly in ways revealing of how our deepest emotional processes are now interwoven with technology. “To H, who didn’t die young” reads

when you search “parental estrangement” the video results are
all “How To Handle Being Cut Out By Your Child”
“It’s Not Always Your Fault”
                              and maybe for some people that is very true.

The poem closes with “there are articles about what to do when your / estranged parent is dying / but I can’t imagine a world you do not overtake.” Outlasting impending death is the speaker’s sense that this “you” will not only haunt them, but continue to take over their world(s).

The interplay of personal and pandemic effects is a highlight of this book, weaving financial strain with impossibilities of comfort in three lines: “the stocks crashed twenty times last week and nobody / could even have sex with strangers or jump / off buildings to commemorate.” In spelling out “climate crisis forever / every poem written is for / a dead and dying world,” Bimboland expands from an individual story-state to a collective it’s-going-to-shit response.

Adopting Twitter and Tumblr’s linguistic modes to poetry, Bimboland communicates the detached experience of contemporary sociality as well as quarantine. The book’s closing poem, “looking for a daddy,” contains evidence of progress—“I know the shame isn’t in me now”—and continuation: “by three pm I am drunk / and dipping my toes in distraction / of the same old variety.” Bimboland feels like a writer stretching their legs, as do many (if not most) debuts; I couldn’t help imagining if, rather than ending with the ongoing search for external income, family, or stimuli, the collection had concluded by landing somewhere more focused on the speaker themselves. The poem “apologizing for feeling,” for example, while implying that emotions remain a luxury we cannot afford, ends with an irreverent image of the speaker atop their own grief:

dancing on my grave baby
dancing on my grave
dancing on my
dancing on
dancing
            into the desert night.

Whether out beyond billboards or down in subway stations, Bimboland is where that dance takes place.

Published on December 13, 2022

2022-12-13T12:17:50-04:00