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Partyknife by Dan Magers

Russel Swensen

I tried to sneak PARTYKNIFE into a movie I had it in my bag but it was too loud, they made me leave. I threw it down on the ground and yelled DOMINO MOTHERFUCKER and every kid there handed over their money, they were pissed. I stood outside your window holding up PARTYKNIFE like a boombox. I carved John Cusak out of soap; PARTYKNIFING the flakes into the bin. Before PARTYKNIFE velvet was just velvet, now it’s fucking CRUSHED. Some guy was looking at me outside the Porn Emporium so I PARTYKNIFED him right in the fucking eye. He took hours to die.




Reviews aren’t supposed to mimic their subject. There is something kind of shady and callow about attempting to perform a text. Like, it’s a script but I’m this here great fucking actor, you know? And that has to be appreciated. PARYKNIFE’s a house but what I want is for you to be all “love what you did with the place.” (I want you to purr and I want you do it in the 1960’s). Acting out the text says the reviewer [this guy] wishes to borrow some dilute version of the verve and intelligence of the text itself. As if for a really hot date, and the book’s just this jacket lying around. You won’t mind (right?).

I mean, you haven’t even read the book so if I swagger around with some dark wig and a mega-fuck-me vibe you might think it’s mine, you’d have no idea I just raided Dan Magers’ closet (“this is not very PARTYKNIFE” he whispered before I taped his mouth shut and threw him down the basement stairs). Or you might have some idea but still, you’d think this Russel guy’s got some moxie, it’s at least a little bit him, this review is in fact kind of a thing itself, it’s a thing. As opposed to a mere layer of varnish on the thing itself. Maybe it’s normal to want that but that doesn’t make it right. Reviews should tell us (I mean, to the best of their ability) what the book is. It’s not “is this a good book.” It’s “what is this book, what is its nature.” Leaving the choice of good/bad up to the reader. I don’t really have access to the good/bad part of your head, we haven’t met and even if we did you probably wouldn’t want me rummaging around in there [haven’t washed my hands sine 1983].

Ok, so what IS the book? It’s really good, is the first thing. If you’re looking for a simple yes/no, well, there it is. I mean, even though I think it’s trashy to say so, there it is. YOU WANTED A RECOMMENDATION OK: buy this book. If You Want A Hit. Buy it. Buy the shit out of it. You should give it to the coat check girl and you should fuck her. You should build a pillow fort out of this book. You should replace cocaine with this book. (Jk keep doing cocaine). “Crying is just nature’s way of saying you’re wrong.”

PARTYKNIFE SPEAK “Awash in Tamaki’s beauty / I am the Burger King of crying right now.” From the poem “Black dudes always know when you’re high.” An irreverent book, a punched ticked book, a book that is a narrative that has also expired (faceless party kids faceless days emptying their faces of all expression). A poem about gifts (“A green number six Billiard ball, / perfectly halved”, “a toy robot”) concludes “a gift is not a gift unless you miss it.” It’s a sad book, then, a sad punk rock book. It’s a tender book. It’s an imperfect book—there are plenty of lines that fall flat (“we got addicted to snorting 9/11 dust / and listened to the feel good hits of Generation X”). Yet those failures— those misses—seem to contribute to the overall feel of the book, a certain grasping after the incomplete wanting to both have it and for it be something other than what it is, viz. incomplete, possibly mutilated. There was a time. There was a place. That is the theme of the book. Written in broken neon. “ALL BANDS ARE ABOUT HOW NEUROTIC WE ARE. / AND NOT HAVING FUN. / WHICH IS WHAT THE EIGHTIES WERE ABOUT.” A loud book, a book at maximum volume.

If you’re doing it with that girl right now,

then this message means jackshit, but probably

you’re not—probably she’s like, “where’s the beer?”

and you’re like, “I don’t got any,”

but we’ve got the beer right here.

Endless parties but here’s the catch—they’re always ending. “We partied during the war years, and his face melted off.” Why not. A loving address to a Coors 40 “….gone/ but your ghost lives on inside of me / infusing all my actions / with what you always dreamed for me to accomplish.” But like, don’t confuse this with Less Than Zero style nihilism—there’s always a sneaky sense of kung-fu cool pervading. Sad maybe but this is sad with style (“gleeful haywire” v. Berryman). “The punk kid in the punk house laughs at the paint he wipes on my new shirt, / but I am an insane god.” It’s a surprising book, endlessly inventive and strange, like a puppet show or a graphic novel, something small, something vast.

You may have noticed btw that I am failing in my stated intentions to say WHAT this book is. I’m just slapping adjectives onto it like I’m the king of slapping Lisa Frank stickers on someone’s arm then punching ’em kind of hard. And I am that. This isn’t because I want to fail. It’s just, I can’t convey this book. It’s elusive. What is the heart of it? “Occasionally the center of attention / brings into focus a girl who loves erasing.” No? “Kneeling at the altar of the merely beautiful.” NO???? “”Exclamation points, no matter how many, / cannot say what all caps articulates from my soul.” “Only some of this will affect you,” Magers tells us. But I was affected by all of it. OK. “Now My Band Will Fuck You.”

You must so fucking sick of me at this point (I started out there but you’re there now, what up?). But this is the book that spurs you to speak as it. This Is The book. You didn’t know what you wanted to be and now you do. “Sexy like a Muppet, / guzzling Diet Cokes like I was Bill Clinton.” Glitter stuck in our eyes like we only look at fancy shit. I threw a PARTYKNIFE in a walk-in freezer, even the confetti hurt. THESE AND OTHER ACTIVITIES theseandvariousenvies. Try and recall the last book you wanted to take up as a lifestyle. Try and recall in particular, the last book of poetry that you wanted to become. It made me feel good. When’s the last time poetry made you feel good? Not distant and admiring, not the literary equivalent of the Met. When was the last time you read a book of poetry that hit you cinema hard? That left you pointing frantically at the screen, a la Velvet Goldmine, saying that’s me.

Look, it’s not the most important book I’ve read in the last five years. Maybe not even the most talented. But it’s the one that gave me the most pleasure, without guilt or complication. I’d forgotten that poetry could do that. That it could provide pure pleasure. We’ve ceded that territory, wrongly, to the escapism of fiction. Perhaps I haven’t engaged with the ideas here, the content beneath the apparent: but my relationship to this book is teen dream, first love, never over it, I am the fucking genie of it. I have tried to be true to that. And perhaps in my response you’ll be able to understand what could cause such a response, perhaps you can negative space this, based upon my stabs at meaning making and: make it whole.

This feels so good. Slap me if I fall asleep,

She says you’ve been sleeping this whole time.

Like a teenager again.

Dust motes exploding off her hair.

And I woke up in a wheelchair.


Russel Swensen currently teaches at Prairie View A&M University. He earned his MFA in fiction from the California Institute of the Arts and his doctorate in poetry from the University of Houston. His fiction and poetry have appeared in Black Clock, Quarterly West, Prick of the Spindle, The Collagist, and elsewhere. In 2009 he was the recipient of the American Academy of Poets/Brazos Award. His poetry chapbook, Santa Ana, was a finalist for the 2010 Gold Line Chapbook Contest and is the winner of the Spring 2011 Black River Chapbook Contest. He is currently at work on a book titled The Magic Kingdom. He lives in Houston with his rat terrier, Zulu.

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