Small Press Dispatch is a new column for short reviews of books and literary magazines published by small, independent publishers. To submit a book or lit mag for review, please email me at klthomas [at] alumni.pitt.edu. Books will be accepted based on interest and availability.
I Am Not Famous Anymore: Poems after Shia LaBeouf
So, confession time: My only knowledge of Shia LaBeouf prior to reading Erin Dorney’s delightful collection of erasure poems was as the kid from Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull who maybe got drunk and disorderly a time or two? I thought of him as just another messed up Hollywood washout.
After reading I Am Not Famous Anymore (Mason Jar Press, 2018), culled from interviews LaBeouf did with various publications including GQ and Rolling Stone, I did a Wikipedia deep dive. I learned that LaBeouf has been accused of plagiarism multiple times, that he now does performance art, and that the title and cover of Dorney’s book is based on a stunt he pulled in 2014 where he wore a paper bag over his head to some award show. He’s also been arrested multiple times, as recently as 2017.
I’m not one for celebrity gossip, but Hanif Abdurraqib’s blurb on the back of the book rings particularly true in my case: “And I suppose that’s the trick, isn’t it? To make a reader care about that which they didn’t care about before.”
Mission accomplished: Now I care about Shia LaBeouf. So now we’re caught up, and I can review the book!
These poems are at once specific to LaBeouf and universal. They humanize him and speak to experiences we all go through: love, loss, pain, change both welcome and resisted. They chip away the veneer and reveal the essential, the soul. But who’s soul? Shia LaBeouf’s? The poet’s? Or the reader’s?
Perhaps—almost certainly—it’s a bit of all three. I’m sure we can all relate to “Just a Lot of Self-Hatred,” which starts out, “It’s a leveling out / a tinge in the chaos / no muscle that isn’t splintering.” Indeed, the entire collection is a splintering of identity, a breaking down and building back up that echoes life in an uncanny way.
Most of Dorney’s poems are short, ten lines or fewer. Those that stretch longer tend to be made up of short lines only a few words long. But despite their brevity, each poem has weight. Each one contains a diamond-hard insight or crystal-clear window into the subject’s point of view.
One of my favorite poems is “Hey Boss,” which examines the idea of becoming, and which I’ll reproduce in whole here:
You become edible
you become curiosity,
never out in the open,
never a part of their lexicon.
You can be whatever the fuck
you give up.
There’s something key there, in the idea that you can be whatever you give up. It’s the cliche, “If you love someone, let them go.” It’s the idea that no matter how much a part of something you are, we all die alone. We can never know each other fully. It’s impossible, even if we spend a lifetime together.
And while Dorney’s poems attempt to unearth the “real” Shia LaBeouf, they also point out the simple fact that the Shia LaBeouf we see on screen, beneath that paper bag, in his performance art, is a construction in the same way the Shia LaBeouf who appears in these pages is. Shia LaBeouf is a mask this man wears, and what it hides, we can only infer in bits and pieces. It’s the same for each of us. Are we who we are, or are we who we present ourselves to the world as?
Ultimately, what these poems say, is that there’s a bit of Shia LaBeouf in all of us.
About Erin Dorney: Erin Dorney is a writer and artist currently based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. … Her poetry has been published in Passages North, Bone Bouquet, Juked, The Pinch, Birdfeast, and various other journals. She has written one piece of fiction that was published by Paper Darts. Her artwork and installations have been featured as part of Made Here, an urban walking gallery in the West Downtown Minneapolis Cultural District; at the Susquehanna Art Museum in Harrisburg, PA; and various juried shows. She has led workshops in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and New York. Read more at her website.
About Mason Jar Press: Mason Jar Press has been publishing handmade, limited-run chapbooks and full-length books since 2014. The Press is dedicated to finding new and exciting work by writers that push the bounds of literary norms. While the work Mason Jar seeks to publish is meant to challenge status quos, both literary and culturally, it must also have significant merit in both those realms. Read more on their website.