Sagging Meniscus Press ($17)
by Eric Vasquéz
All the Useless Things are Mine is an odd little book by poet/prose writer Thomas Walton. It is a book of seventeen-word sentences that lean at times toward aphorism, and at others toward stand-up comedy. The book is sometimes strictly aphoristic: “The whole world, really, is a pearl, and we like hordes of spoiled swine move through it.” At other times it reads like haiku (or “Landscape Paintings,” which is one of the section headings): “Along the neighbor’s stairs, the morning light has married the clematis vine twining its black iron rail.”
Separated into sections that seem to range the span of a lifetime, the books starts “At the Crack of Up” and ends in the “The Afterlife.” The sections are sometimes literally titled—“Politics,” “Love and Sex,” “Art Criticism”—and sometimes figuratively titled: “The Surest Way to Die” is about parenthood, “All Poets Are Lunatics” is about poetics, “This, They Say, Will Happen” is about death and dying.
Walton doesn’t seem afraid to go “too far.” There is an odd, and oddly sexual thread, that weaves its way through the book. The name Jordan appears in numerous “seventeens” and seems to be a kind of fantastic lover of the author. It wouldn’t be accurate to say that Jordan is a character any more than robins and garbage trucks, two oft-repeated themes in the book, are. Jordan is more like a phantom that floats through the book. They are never specifically gendered, and have, at differing times, differing genitalia by turns.
Some of the “seventeens” are dark and macabre: “The one who so desperately tries to blend in may as well be desolated in a blender.” Others flirt dangerously with platitude and cliché: “Since you left every cloud resembles you, so I just lie in the field all day, staring.” All the Useless Things Are Mine does indeed seem, at times anyway, to be a catalogue of “useless things.” Joggers get an entire section, with twenty-one “seventeens” devoted to them. But then there is also a section headed “Dear God” that leans toward the spiritual and contemplative: “What is it really, that is so difficult? To wander here awhile, to die just once forever.”
The book is illustrated by artist Douglas Miller, whose etchings are, like the text, deceptively simple. The elegant black and white images may also be seen as “useless things”: a house fly, a crow’s shadow, part of a cat’s head. In addition, the images are often unfinished, or parts of a whole (as the image of an owl that seems almost to unravel); this mimics the constrained or fragmented nature of the series of seventeen-word sentences.
An Afterword by Elizabeth Cooperman seeks to situate the book within the aphoristic tradition, or beside it. The reader, ultimately, will have to make up their own mind as to whether this book belongs with aphorisms, haiku, comedy, social commentary, koans, or something else entirely.