I say this not to slight his work or ageâ€”I liked his poems and heâ€™s only two days younger than I amâ€”but Gergory Sherl is a poet of youth, which is to say that his debut collection, Heavy PettingÂ is saturated with a holy-fuck-I-hope-Iâ€™m-right sort of faith.
Itâ€™s possible that proximity is the reason for the collectionâ€™s charming guesswork, its unavoidable pitfalls. Sherl references whatâ€™s closest to him both physically and mentally: Crystal Light, Xanax, OCD, Mel Gibson, poems themselves. The work as a whole seems to employ Richard Hugoâ€™s ideaâ€”or an idea that I always relate to Richard Hugo and his book The Triggering Townâ€”of relation through proximity. â€œFall Down the Stairs, I Will Catch Your Lonely Headâ€ almost makes an excuse for itself right away, mentioning a new fondness for â€œthe sound of poetryâ€ and then unleashing lines that merely sound poetic. â€œBe My Dateâ€ is an example where this technique works, showing more of an evolution from one spot to a logical-but-oblivious next spot, along a spider web train of thought instead of a series of seemingly random things that sound nice.
In fact, most of the poems employ that quality of starting in one place and ending in another. Often, I found myself being really impressed with an ending line or flourish and upon thinking back, couldnâ€™t remember how the poem started. Is that a bad thing? Or, a better question: Would these poems be better if Sherl reigned them in a bit? The poems in Heavy Petting where he does just that speak positively of such an idea.
â€œHe was blurry even in daylight, always tucking
his feelings under his own myth. A wall
clock tells us tomorrow will sound the same.
A song goes But this day by the lake went
too fast, and now the raindrops are the size
of golf balls. When the power goes out, we
hide in the bathtub. I tell you I have never
drowned and lived. The wind is the sound
of the ocean meeting itself. We huddle under
a doorway. I grip your rainy nose. Tomorrow
I will wade into the nearest river, ask it when
it might like to leave.â€ â€“ from â€œYeti Loveâ€
Sherlâ€™s poetry isnâ€™t anti-narrative, but it does settle comfortably into the anecdotal obliqueness found in most good flash fiction. I had to find the right balance between what to retain and what to not get stuck on trying to figure out, and even when assuming a prose-like form, Sherlâ€™s work struggles with its own disjointed ramble. This isnâ€™t to say it isnâ€™t a fair, honest reflection of Sherlâ€™s inner dialogue and feelingsâ€”I hear him say I am disjointed, I am mostly wanderingâ€”but its similarities to reality donâ€™t change that fact that disjointed is disjointed, chaos is chaos.
Sherlâ€™s greatest strengths lie in the single line. I desire cutting and focus, and I feel Sherl is learningâ€”good habits, I hopeâ€”but heâ€™s not there yet. There are many instances where it seems like the order of the sentences doesnâ€™t seem to matter. Or, at least, new things are unlocked by rearranging them, but it makes it very clear that the order was loose to begin with. Thereâ€™s rarely an arc, a through-line. Maybe thereâ€™s an emotional top layer that makes these poemsâ€”lots of poems in general, reallyâ€”impenetrable for me, but I really donâ€™t think that Iâ€™m complaining about the difficulty of the work. Sherlâ€™s appeal is one of the heart, and not the mind. I have a feeling heâ€™s totally cool with that.
â€œIf my hands were orange juice, sheâ€™d be holding them or theyâ€™d be in her mouth. On TV the narrator says Many experts believe that bull sharks are even more aggressive than great white sharks. A commercial and I think silly thoughts. Iâ€™m going to write Bill Cosby. Where do you hide all that Jell-O? Iâ€™ll ask him. Iâ€™m sick of fucking myself when I should be conditioning my hair. I have a problem using the same towel twice. The used towels are strewn across the bathroom tile, always a little more damp than Iâ€™d like them to be. I think my heaven is going to be mediocre at best.â€ â€“ from â€œChapter Fourâ€
Again, these are young poems. Everything is reactionary. Thereâ€™s a lot of focus on â€œthe lastâ€ of something: time I was sad enough to die, time I burned my tongue on a thigh, boy who licked your shins, girl who let me bite her pillow. Sherlâ€™s poetry aches to be over something. These are single serving poems. Iâ€™ve marked my favorites, plan to go back to them when I need the good shit straight and hard. Heavy Petting is as necessary and enjoyable as the daily Xanax, the desire to condition my hair for two minutes, every day. Not to soften, but to remain.
Ryan Werner is aÂ janitorÂ in theÂ Midwest. He is the author of the short short story collectionÂ Shake Away These Constant DaysÂ (Jersey Devil Press, 2012). FollowÂ @YeahWernerÂ on Twitter and visit his website,Â Ryan Werner (Writes Stuff).