The pleasure and mystery of poetry is that very few people ask if the poems are “fiction” or “nonfiction.” Poems are “poetry” which is sometimes fact and sometimes not, and in the best poetry, it is both at the same time: imagining and life all combined skillfully in words and lines. This is perhaps why poetry is sometimes seen as one of the high arts, its ability to mix and match and blend and blur makes it the most adaptable, the most elusive, and the most satisfactory. But, we should remember, poetry isn’t really a genre. It is a form, one which allows all the genres, whether realistic or fantastic. Often both, as is the case in John Surowiecki’s Further Adventures of My Nose, where dreams, science, observation, and imagination all combine into one story.
On the surface, Further Adventures of My Nose tells the story of a cancerous nose who decides to see the world and so “thumbing himself at” the speaker, up and leaves (11), though he still maintains a friendly correspondence, sending emails from his travels to the Great Pyramids, the Dead Sea, England, and under the bed. Meanwhile, the narrator, still in hospital, meditates on life without a nose and also on the various voices coming from adjacent rooms. Voices of loss, voices of ecstasy, the voices of those suffering around him.
From the title to the last page, is a strange and delightful chapbook, filled with verse that walks a fine line between comic and tragic. Accompanied by Terry Rentzepis’s darkly whimsical illustrations, the whole collection is a delight, the sort of book you’ll pick up to browse and, without consciously deciding to do so, finish all in one sitting. Each poem leads into the next, playful and serious to the last, until the adventure ends.
And it is an adventure, though Surowiecki’s musings are interrupted often by daydreams of Kings and sex and topographies. It is clear that the world without a nose is different than the one where he and his nose were one: “Either everything exists except my nose/or nothing exists except my nose which/somehow amounts to the same thing” (19). In this “darkness of another kind/…lilacs & the ocean/ are only sad movies of themselves” (17). Like the illustrations that accompany the poems, the world of the poems is muted and hushed, having lost the edge when the nose departed. But in this muted world, there are some moments of shining, though the brilliance often accompanies further disjointing. In “Chemotherapy,” we learn that “It ran though the veins & arteries/ like gasoline, cold but capable of fire./My nose thought he’d become a god!” (35). The godhood, obviously, is only an illusion, as are most of the other moments of home, which almost always come in the daydreams. In “Daydream No. 3: Y_______ and the KofS” a cellist appears and plays on stage, gathering “royal applause, but as if for me/ as if for me!!!!!!” (36).
Besides being a moment of emotion in the otherwise coy piece, the line above is also a good indication of the book’s poetic style. The “Y__________” in the title is the name of the cellist, who also appears another poem and an illustration, but who’s name we’re not told. There are other blanks in the poems, names of diseases and natural treasures, often in lists, populated partly in face and partly in imagination are we’re asked to fill the spaces ourselves. The line above also shows Surowiecki’s knack for abbreviations; here “KofS” is for King of Spain, another character that appears in the daydreams, but indicative of the style, where the poet uses “&” and “w/o” and “yrs” intermittently, echoing the letters he receives from his nose, reminding us that these poems are all missives of one sort of the other. The exclamation points, too, evidence the enthusiasm that goes into every line of Surowiecki’s poetry, an enthusiasm that surpasses the traditional bounds of poetry.
Readers will be happy to know the adventure ends happy for all involved: The narrator and the nose are reunited, the cancer (named Herr Timple) moves to Canada and starts a family, the men in the other rooms all go home, the cellist remarries. “They’re all right/…/Everything’s all right. In fact, everything/can’t be anything but all right” (48). But then again, poetry cannot be just one thing. While we readers are happy for the happy ending, the happy ending isn’t where it ends. Instead, he goes one poem more to remind us that things will not last. The bad will be cured, but, “You know, it really lasts only so long——/———— this new appreciation for life” (49).
Further Adventures of My Nose is available for free from Ugly Duckling Presse
Scott Russell Morris lives in Lubbock, TX, where he is an English PhD student at Texas Tech University. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from Brigham Young University. His essays have appeared in Brevity, Proximity, Blue Lyra Review, and Stone Voices. He is mildly obsessed with squirrels and even just today bought another squirrel ornament for the squirrel-ornament tree he will decorate with at Christmas.