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Andrew James Weatherhead Proves You Don’t Have to Share Every Single Thing That Comes Into Your Mind

Andrew James Weatherhead is my everything and he has a new book.

by Blake Butler
18 March 2015, 9:55pm

Andrew James Weatherhead

They say that in the hands of a great writer anything can be made interesting. With the right hands behind the keyboard architecture can become terrifying, food can become hilarious, abandoned trash on the ground can become heartbreaking—the terrain is all within the mind, and the only thing that matters is the way it appears after it is transferred onto the page. After all, life doesn't have an inherent plot as much as it has thousands of minor, fleeting experiences that together congregate to form a day, a year, and eventually a life, and often it is the expressions offered in a context no other sort of mind could have conjured that move the most.

There are certain writers who I respect so much that I find myself waiting to hear how they will speak, how they will arrange their next words. Andrew James Weatherhead is one of them. I still think regularly about one of the first lines I read by him: "There are 450 players in the NBA / not all of them can be my favorite." What is it about that sentiment that has stuck in my mind even five years after the fact? It's such a simple thought, directly stated, and yet somehow it changes the way I think about the entire sport. The idea of picking a most beloved athlete's personality or playing out of thousands of strangers, all of them grown-ass millionaires running around on a screen indirectly and almost unknowingly competing for the favor of this particular viewer. It's almost as if the more you think about the way the thing is said, the more ways there are to think about the thing, which makes the almost sneaky emotion it delivers that much more surprising. Perhaps that's one of the greatest things: to be surprised; to find magnetic qualities in places you weren't prepared, hadn't seen coming; to laugh without even knowing what it was that worked, and then to feel the tragedy in that, packed in tight alongside the pleasure.

All of this is to say that I've been waiting for a long time for Andrew James Weatherhead to publish a book. Finally, after years of making due with his endlessly satisfying Twitter feed, that wish came true, in the form of a spare, 62-page collection of poems titled Cats & Dogs. Before this, there'd only been a single-copy print run of Andrew's memoir, a loosely bound, many hundred page document printed on Deskjet paper of his first name, Andrew, repeated countless numbers of times.

As I'd expected, Cats & Dogs contains a range of styles I'd not expected, all told in a tone of voice that embodies the qualities mentioned above. There is a poem that describes what the lines of the poems say rather than saying the lines; another that compares CVS to Target; there are several haikus that seem to pay little attention to what haikus do; there is a poem that somehow milks strong emotion out of the simple description of a spilled coffee making its away around the moving floor of a city bus; a poem titled "A Private View of Butt City." The voice maintains its certain, inalienable poise across the span of all these pieces. For once someone is speaking calmly and carefully about the small, everyday things that find a way to somehow both pass by you quietly, and in that quiet passing underline a sense about the world you somehow always felt but could never name.

The effect here is a tone of voice that walks the line between the most common objects and the unreal. For once, I don't really have any idea of what I could compare it to, what precedent to which it might align. But where other writers might rely on absurdity or satire to deliver electricity, Weatherhead patiently allows the most minor details to loom larger in the absence of more noise. A poem about how a piece of pizza getting wet in the rain resembles his friend Philip, who is then no more intricately described, seems to somehow give a better sense of the importance of this person, and even what they might be like, than trying to go deeper. It is as if there is emotion derived from the pure absence of all frills, and the presentation of strange information as the only information, a sense that there is no other way to bring it out. It is refreshing to find such sense delivered with such trust in itself—and in the reader. Weatherhead's book assumes that you are not a dumbass, that we can all see through the exaggerated artifice of some creations, and he is talking to you as a friend, an eye in the world that for once isn't taking and taking, but seeing and believing, having faith in that which you didn't even know needed it.

Three poems from Cats & Dogs:

Poem

You don't even know

you know even half

the stuff you know.

No one is home.

In 2012, 141 people

were killed by trains.

Take it Easy

the wind blew in

off the lake today

I lifted heavy weights

in the morning with

the help of coffee

I dribbled a basketball

in place I read

about a tiny island

both Korea and Japan

think is theirs I

found a small pimple

in my beard next

to a single red

hair

What Happens When Your Dad Dies

what happens when your dad dies

is you get a phone call

is he going to be ok, you ask

you hear "no" and crying

you don't say anything

for so long that someone says

"are you still there?"

you say "yeah"

the phone gets passed around

someone says you have a flight home

someone says to book a car, use the credit card

someone says to not forget your suit

the call ends

you sit down

you stand

you email your boss and roommates

you take a long shower

and walk outside

it's 3:13 in the morning

a garbage truck is beeping

you start walking

you take a left, a right, another left

then walk straight for a while

you come to a brightly lit diner

you open the door

it's empty except for the wait staff

you sit in a booth

you order the steak and eggs

no meal in your entire life

has arrived so crystal clear

and meaningless

there're onions and green peppers

in the hash browns

a very small glass of juice

you manage a few bites

ESPN is on the television

the NBA playoffs

are about to begin

and months later you'll realize

you just got up and left

completely forgetting to pay

and that sucks

because they

were really nice

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Tagged:
poetry
Literature
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Blake Butler
artsy fartsy
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James Weatherhead