Review by Josie Mills, Ph.D. (email)

by Jessy Randall

Ghost Road Press, 5303 East Evans Avenue #309, Denver, Colorado 80222;, ISBN #: 0-9789456-5-4, 86pp, $13.95

Jessy Randall's poems--at once familiar and new--flip you upside down. "Bite-size" "gifts," as David Graham calls them, they are indeed candy-covered treats for the eye and the mouth. "Dumped blossoms of powered sugar at our feet," "chocolate milk for ten cents on Fridays" ("I drink you with a straw!"), spoons "rattling softly / in the silverware drawer"--this is love in the rich, absurd, dream-suggestive world of Randall's first collection.

Randall's A Day in Boyland conveys the story of boys, boyfriends, ex-boyfriends, true love, marriage, pregnancy, and child through a vision that is witty, zany, and absolutely true. The poems present a paradox: they are at their lightest, their funniest, when the narrator seems saddest and loneliest--when she fantasizes about becoming a "llama wool millionaire" as her boyfriend leaves her ("The Revenge"), when the new boyfriend (the TV) is "two feet tall" with a "perfectly square" face, when the narrator regrets her roommate's lost love:

[He] painted a picture of her eye
He painted our house.
He stopped painting and instead goes to the gym.
He pretends he does not want to paint.  (from "Phone Words")

The climax of the collection comes for me long before the narrator finds true love in "We Rang the Bell at the Restaurant"--it comes when the narrator reveals her system in "The Ugly-Nightgown Life (Someday You'll Be Happy Again)":

According to your the old system,
each minute you put in as a couple
meant the next minute was more likely.
You thought you were guarding against being left,
or leaving. You thought, two years, two
and a half years, three years, three and a half--
this is forever.
In the new system,
every day of solitude
is a promise that someday you'll be happy again.

This notion of shoring up the days of a relationship against aloneness, of accumulating them as a measure of commitment insurance is the moment I search for in poetry--an insight into the truth, into something we've all thought without realizing it. The uncertain optimism of this poem is characteristic of most of Randall's poems--the narrator does not wallow; she laughs.

Randall's humor in the collection turns inward and outward. Twice my base curiosity drove me to turn with eagerness to "The Great Disappointment of the Honeymoon" to find the joke was on me: the only thing remiss was "[o]ne morning at breakfast / there are no croissants." Randall's humor also unfolds in the playful absurdity of her daydreams: the couches of your past all collected in one room ("The Couch"), "girly-girl astronauts" battling each other with shampoo ("The Girly-Girls"), the parade-like "March of the Ex-Boyfriends."

Somehow Randall taps into memory--collective and personal--from the 80s and 7th grade through the present day. The book is likely comprised from Randall's work over many years, yet amazingly it feels consistent, like she wrote all the poems in one sitting. Her librarian's mind focuses our attention into her micro-scope of vision as she shares with us scraps she's found in email, in a newspaper ad from 1869, in a Reality Female Condom pamphlet, in crossword puzzle answers. Randall is fully immersed in pop culture: The Wizard of Oz, Miss America, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Coca-Cola, Marathon Man, The X-Files, The Talking Heads, Bjork. The title of the collection is suggestive of the first (and surely the best) cd release of Liz Phair, the Chicago grunge artist who recently sold out to Top 40 (but that's another story).

Randall's poems are original and funny and tight. You may at times feel embarrassed peeking into the speaker's private world, but her humor and poetry camouflage...yet rarely so much that's she's hiding or abstract or unapproachable. You will find yourself both savoring and gobbling up each poem in this collection.



Josie Mills holds a Ph.D. in English with a specialty in creative writing – poetry – from the University of Denver. Her poetry has appeared in national and international journals including TalkingRiver Review, Bitterroot, Colorado Lawyer, and Mantis, a Journal of Poetry, Criticism, and Translation. She lives in Denver with her husband and two sons and is a member of the English faculty at Arapahoe Community College in Littleton, Colorado, where she teaches writing and a yearly course in how to get published.  

Note: Reviews may not necessarily reflect the opinions of RATTLE's editors and staff.