November 2006

Aysha Somasundaram


you are a little bit happier than i am by Tao Lin

Reading Tao Lin’s you are a little bit happier than i am (Winner of the 2005 December Prize) is reminiscent of covertly eavesdropping on a private conversation over a cup of hallucinogen-spiked black coffee. The reader cannot help but feel a little like a transfixed interloper. The poems are powered by direct, confessional statements which reveal the interior life of a twenty-something year old who is an alternately suicidal and homicidal, infatuated, self-conscious and self-loathing, ambivalent observer/poet.

The constancy and distinctiveness of the poet’s voice and preoccupations unify the poetry collection’s arguably disparate and expansive contents. Death, murder, unreturned love, orange juice, anti-depressants, mothers, Nobel prizes, Thanksgiving, existential angst and even book reviewers litter the collection. Neglecting to say that there are thematic undercurrents and choruses would be disingenuous. Rejection, suicide, loneliness, flirtations with killing, self-expression and nihilism recur and reappear -- sometimes unexpectedly.

The poems sanitize nothing, laying bare the shameful, ugly, violent, insecure and self-obsessed with peculiar sincerity. The mundane and fantastic coexist, undifferentiated in poems like “i am unemployed” where a job interview features talking bottled water and a bombed interviewee. Lin veers from familiar or typical realities and events into nightmarish dreamscapes deftly and seamlessly. While disinclined to praise his poetry (as Lin predicts book reviewers inevitably do) “as ‘life-affirming’ because the more humans there are on earth the better.” The collection’s charm lies at least in part in the fact that Lin’s poems never descend into swampy self-indulgence or complete negation.

The language of the poems is largely spare, unadorned and often lowercase. The collection’s strength hinges on the precision of its unexpected pairings words, images and ideas: “i think this poem is serrated.” Equally noteworthy is Lin’s delicacy, evidenced in metaphors such as, “makes me blanched and lightweight like a seashell.”

Lin’s poetry may not be for those sensibilities and tastes favor propriety or comfortable niceties. His truths are not prettily wrapped, but for the initiated or interested his poetry alternately soothes and provokes with its indiscreet admissions and insights.

you are a little happier than i am by Tao Lin
Action Books Titles
ISBN: 097656923X