BY NATE LOGAN
Laura Theobald’s The Best Thing Ever picks up where some other writing games leave off: cut-ups, Exquisite Corpse, and Flarf to name a few. I don’t mean "game" in a disparaging way, far from it. Theobald’s continuation in these traditions reveals a claustrophobic world where a few priorities, a few things dominate.
Her technique in composing these sixteen poems is as follows:
[These poems were completed using predictive text software on an iPhone iOS 8.3. The text and the order in which it appears are the product of the author’s selections from the three suggestions offered by the predictive text. Capitalization is also determined by the predictive software. Line breaks are determined by the margins in the Notes application of an iPhone.]
So, while these poems were constructed using a few rigid controls, Theobald had choice in how the poems would unfold. Something very sad emerges despite the choice afforded; there are many phrases and words that show up multiple times across the poems: dad, death and destruction, government, mom, the best thing ever, tired, and work. Are these phrases and words commonly used among iPhone users? (I’m in the dark; I don’t have an iPhone or smartphone.)
Given the technique used in the book, the poems do have a unified voice, albeit a little unstable at times, which is to be expected. For example, the beginning of "the only thing I would like to have been killed" reads:
the only thing I would like to have
been killed in clashes between police
and army troops in a statement
issued by the end of the day. (35)
Sentences like these, found throughout The Best Thing Ever, make a reading of the poems slightly jarring, only because your brain tries to keep up with the page. However, there are an equal number of spots where gorgeous lines present themselves and stick. In "I just got home from work and it was just a little too hard for me," there’s the beautiful phrasing, "you / are a little bit of a sudden urge to go / to sleep and I love it" (13). Still elsewhere, there are lines that illuminate the melancholy that trickles below the surface of many of these poems: “I’m at / work and I’m still waiting for the rest / of my life," and “I’m so happy to be a good time / waster but I can’t believe I’m saying / that" (23 and 27).
The Best Thing Ever is telling us something we already know, but are hesitant to acknowledge. We are tired. We are at work. We think about Mom and Dad. We think about death and destruction and our government. Given the multitude of topics we could be discussing with colleagues and friends over text, the same things keep coming up. We repeat ourselves and don’t even know it. The best thing ever would be to put the iPhone down. The actual best thing ever is to hear, to listen to Theobald while we still can.
Nate Logan is from Indianapolis, Indiana. His recent work appears in burntdistrict, Ohio Edit, and Pouch. With Laura Theobald, he edits Spooky Girlfriend Press.
Laura Theobald is the author of the chapbook eraser poems from H_NGM_N and the forthcoming chapbook edna poems from Lame House Press. She is finishing her poetry MFA at LSU in Baton Rouge. She works as a freelance editor and as an assistant editor to Spooky Girlfriend Press. She has a self-published series of poems in collaboration with a chatbot called "cleverbot my only friend." She grew up on an island in the Florida Keys, and has a cat named Brett. You can visit her site lauratheobald.net or twitter @lidleida.