ganassicoverIan Ganassi
Mean Numbers
China Grove Press/IsoLibris Publishing

Reviewer: Cindy Hochman

And now for something completely different…

Perhaps in the Age of Trump, we have become all too accustomed to non sequiturs. The difference, however, between the president’s non sequiturs and Ian Ganassi’s is that the poet’s seemingly disconnected lines are actually an exercise in cohesion and control, not random and rambling disjointedness; his casuistry serves to enlighten rather than deceive by subterfuge; and his ambiguity is actually quite illuminating, less terrifying, and much more endearing, with a healthy measure of good humor (rather than contempt) added. One can easily picture Ganassi writing with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, and this is the most effective way to read Mean Numbers as well.

So, would Ian Ganassi be considered a surrealist, in light of his penchant for free association and disparity? In a broad sense, Ganassi’s work can be tucked inside the surrealistic box by dint of its angles of eccentricity, much like the discordant elements of a Buñuel film, but the poet’s aim runs counter to the concept of “deranging the senses,” which is the hallmark of surrealism; he offers clarity rather than illogicality. As Ganassi himself says, “No list is entirely arbitrary.” If there is a kinship to the surrealists, it lies not in any strange mental imagery or symbolism, but in the intent to push the boundaries in the way that we perceive and interpret poetry, as well as the threads of irreverence, particularly toward religion, that pervade these poems. In the opening poem, it is noted that “Jesus flew in on a sparrow”; in “Hear No Evil,” the poet gives us permission to not count our blessings; in “The Fat Lady,” he accuses, “If you’re liable to read the Bible you’re liable”; in “Tightrope,” he paraphrases the Lord’s Prayer with “Give us this day our daily dread / And lead us not into Penn Station”; and for the more end times-conscious among us, he predicts “A scatological eschatology / The end will be a shit storm.” (He’s probably right!)

From “Aphoristic Approximations”:

Shoes and a bowtie and a tuxedo between
The sheets where they were lost forever.
All you need is love love is all you need.

You need more than that, but that
Was one way of putting it.

Curiously, the more Ganassi attempts to flout the rules, the closer he comes to reconciling unconventionality with a comforting apportionment of accessibility. By drawing from a voluminous array of recognizable sources (i.e., the Beatles reference above), coupled with a bit of the bawdy (in “A Furious Silence,” he has us believe that “Little Miss Muffet was pregnant by Little Jack Horner” and in “Enough and Time,” he asks “How much furniture polish does it take to screw in a dormitory?”), he tenders commonplace phraseology into a jargon that elicits more laugh-out-loud acknowledgment than perturbation. By situating utterly familiar characters in surprising settings (“Her uncle Mr. Green Jeans insisted I work in his garden” or “It isn’t actually a change of course of course of course / Except when the horse is a talking horse”), Ganassi shrewdly splices together a language that is new and delightful, while staying within the bounds of what the reader knows and can grasp. In other words, he keeps us “off course,” while ensuring our comprehension. Sometimes this comes in the form of sly truisms, as in “Eye as in Eye,” where the pithy statement “he publishes his friends” seems to come out of thin air, though most practitioners of poetry will surely identify with and verify its accuracy, and be humored by it.

From “And Stranger Yet”:

Is it true that you hate me as much as you used to do?
Or have we achieved some sort of truce?
I think this Christmas I will cook your goose.

In “Double Vision,” Ganassi admits that “Life consists of standing in line / with periodic breaks,” and it is during these breaks, in between the mundane, that the poet’s good-natured and zany worldview thrives. Readers who will derive the most amusement from these poems are those who are willing to follow him down the rabbit hole, from the silly to the sublime (there are indeed a few allusions to Alice and “a cat with a shit-eating grin”). By deeming no saying or saw or snippet of song off-limits, he gives himself the poetic leeway to cover a lot of tillable ground. In “Further Observations,” a title that lends itself to a wide latitude of expression, he concludes that “Life is always whispering in its own ear.” Apparently, Ganassi is listening to what it has to say, and his documentation of it gets crafted into a kind of universal cento that incorporates everyday baggage, along with the griping and grousing that goes with it (witness the onomatopoeia of repetition contained in “machines assembled by machines assembled by machines assembled by…”). The clever and copious use of rhythm and reiteration give these lines a confident matter-of-factness, and many of the titles themselves (“Market Economics” and “Prophetic Laundry List”) reinforce the quotidian themes, but it is these very contrapositions that create a wholly original aesthetic, Ganassi-style. And complementing the Alice in Wonderland tea party feel of these poems are shades of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” as exemplified by various lines from “The Case On Its Merits”:

Millstein and Quagmire promised six figures.

I watched the pot and it boiled.

Lord Flutecracker prepared the punch while his eligible daughter used the chamber pot.

Matilda Catslinger was a munificent contralto.

Your skin graft is ready Mr. Scaramanger.

Your tea, Mr. Clodhammer.

In the poem “Go West,” Mr. Ganassi opines that “language loves the sound of its own voice / And sometimes it says something worth hearing / Most of the time it just babbles.” This may be true, but it’s also true that sometimes the world is all the better for this babbling.

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