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Phrases Lost & Found

by Lucille Lang Day

The Takeaway Bin, poems by Toni Mirosevich, Spuyten Duyvil, New York City, 2010, 78 pages, $14.00 paper,

The snappy, jazzy poems in The Takeaway Bin, Toni Mirosevich's fourth collection, include both prose poems and poems with long, Whitmanesque lines. Each poem offers a strategy, sensible or bizarre, for dealing with daily dilemmas. The underlying idea comes from Oblique Strategies, a card game that Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt invented in 1975. In the game, each card presents a phrase or tactic that can be applied to a problem.

In The Takeaway Bin, each poem has a subtitle that states a problem-solving strategy. Some of the strategies could be a good idea in certain situations ("Be less critical more often," "Don't stress one thing more than another"). Others are whimsical ("Use an unacceptable color") or ironic ("Ask people to work against their better judgment," "Give way to your worst impulse").

The poems do not apply the strategies to specific problems, but rather riff on them, moving in unexpected directions and exulting in the joy of language. There's a great deal of internal rhyme:

It's a stitch, isn't it, that there's such an itch

to judge.…

(from "Lit Crit")

…The odds are skewed in their favor, lucky ducks. What pluck

to stare the day in the eye…

(from "Courage")

If you let me under skin, we'll make a different kind of sin,

a hoot, a holler, slightly sleazy, but it makes me feel so breezy…

(from "Love Boat")

As these quotes illustrate, there's also intentional use of clichés, sometimes rephrased, always used in ways that make them new and interesting.

The use of clichés is one of the most delightful aspects of the book and provides the primary meaning of the title, The Takeaway Bin: Mirosevich takes away all the scraps of language that others have discarded and uses them to construct something new, much as a quilter reuses scraps of fabric. For example, "The Worst" advises: "Go for the jugular: juggle your options like oranges.…" When "jugular" metamorphoses into "juggle," the cliché "go for the jugular" becomes fun. Similarly, in "Reps" the reader is pleased to meet "what goes around comes around" as "what goes around/thumbs around, wants a ride into the next frame / or stanza…" and "we do not learn from history" as "We / do not yearn from history…" Every poem is chockfull of such wordplay and reworking of clichés, as though Mirosevich set out to scrape the bottom of the literary barrel and make use of everything she could find there. Only a very talented writer could pull this off, and Mirosevich has succeeded.

In addition to the linguistic takeaway bin, whose phrases cast off by others are retrieved and used throughout the book, there is a takeaway bin in the poem "Free Box," whose strategy is a question: "Would anyone want it?" This poem concludes, "…if you're weary and // you can't weep…. Place your / threadbare sorrow in the free box. Let go of that old yarn." Not bad advice! A free box for discarded worries and fears also appears in the title poem, "The Takeaway Bin." This poem begins "Toss out any crummy little ax to grind," but as a hardcore late sleeper, I especially loved the admonition, "It's less important to get the worm / than to have one last frame of the dream."

The poems in The Takeaway Bin are playful, witty, and great fun to read. They also offer many interesting takes on dilemmas; they will make you smile again and again as you ponder such things as "the days of wine and peonies," "she didn't / suffocate fools gladly," and "Don't bark, don't tell."

Lucille Lang Day's most recent book of poetry is The Curvature of Blue. The founder and director of Scarlet Tanager Books, she lives in Oakland, California.

On Sunday, June 12, 2011, 3:00, Toni Mirosevich will read from her work with Bruce Isaacson, Poetry Flash at Diesel, A Bookstore, 5433 College Avenue, Oakland.

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