Split Lip REVIEWS
Erin Dorney’s I Am Not Famous Anymore
by Stephanie Trott
Mason Jar Press
Publication Date: June 2018
“I am no longer wild,
I watched it happen.
When you have no say
over the mask,
you wake up fake,
And I can’t find peace
Immediately we are presented with an image of what is and what was, and a sense of admitted autonomy that has since become lost. These poems are both of and to LaBoeuf, as without him this project would not exist. Dorney draws her lines directly from the actor’s various interviews as an exercise in erasure, altering only capitalization, punctuation, and line breaks. One cannot read nearly these nearly fifty poems without at least once imagining their lines coming directly from LaBoeuf. In some moments, this perspective warrants empathy, while in others there is a more direct pull toward disappointment and perhaps even pity. But with the turn of each page and accumulation of each new perspective, the compiled image of a whole person begins to form and we begin to see ourselves in these petite first-person poems.
Although the tone throughout this collection is largely more on the downbeat, Dorney is playful in her approach to form and appears not to take this process too seriously. One poem is comprised entirely of variations on the words “yes” and “no,” while another can be interpreted with both horizontal and vertical readings. Dorney even takes care to cite the interviews she is pulling from at the bottom of each poem’s respective page, should the reader be interested in reviewing the text firsthand. But by erasing the extraneous words of these conversations and reclaiming them in simplicity, she encourages the reader to look beyond the surface of not only celebrity but their own daily interactions, and to make art and meaning out of the most seemingly mundane exchanges. “If you want to survive,” she writes in the poem I WORKED, “you must learn / to make it real.”
Dorney often marries playfulness with melancholy, describing pockets of night and disheveled hair that anyone who has survived the tawdry days of adolescence will recall. We have all at some point in our lives performed a version of ourselves, and more probably still do so each and every day. We were each to some degree once famous, in that we have all once been someone praised or well received for an endeavor or personal trait. In turning the lens on an American celebrity through the creation of a matryoshka narrative, we meet someone still eager for something to prove. Whether that of Dorney or LaBoeuf or the ubiquitous everyman, this is a person wanting us to see that they have “accrued dirt like a very hard man,” who acknowledges the development of bad habits and vulnerably questions who they have become.
Even the cover image of a paper bag—reminiscent of the infamous one that LaBoeuf wore to shield his face at the Berlin Film Festival—conjures images of unmasking performance to see what lies beneath. No longer obscuring the image of a person, it remains idle and open to whatever (or whomever) it encounters next. Perhaps that purpose will be another mask for another someone. Perhaps it will be filled with old mail and compost, or it might be used to cover a child’s textbook. The point I am attempting to make is that our actions are never ours alone. They affect multitudes of people, rippling to become interpreted and reclaimed, not necessarily going where we may have originally intended but always carrying the potential to become something more.
And that is exactly what Dorney does in this marvelous little collection: by picking apart LaBoeuf’s interviews, she is not finding their hidden meaning but is rather making one of her own. We cannot read this collection without previous conceptions of the source celebrity, but that impossible separation becomes one of its triumphs. These were his words to begin with, voiced into the universe and grabbed by those who listened and read and grabbed onto them. The questions that remain after reading these poems ponder originality and perspective, namely whether duplication and manipulation can so altar the truth as to make one believe what may not actually be there. Erin Dorney’s poems are not so much found as reclaimed and repurposed, taking the proverbial sow’s ear—or better perhaps a brown grocery sack—and turning it into a silk purse.
Stephanie Trott lives and writes on the southeastern coast of Massachusetts. She is a senior editor for TRUE, the weekly online platform for Proximity Magazine, and holds an MFA in fiction from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her writing appears in the Rumpus, Cleaver Magazine, and New South.
Think on the name “Shia LaBoeuf” and a differing series of images may come to mind: the boy in a family sitcom who lives for nothing more than tormenting his older sister. The teenager banished to the desert to dig an endless series of holes with his misfit friends. The Hollywood heartthrob who befriends machines, fights in wars, and aids the success of Indiana Jones. Arguably one of the most talked about images, however, is the faceless actor who wears a bag over his face while walking a red carpet event.
I Am Not Famous Anymore is both the statement scrawled across LaBoeuf’s bag and the title of Erin Dorney’s debut book of poetry. Simple but strongly worded, the phrase invites conversation and debate over one’s perspective of what makes a celebrity, who owns an image, and the thoughts that brew beneath a tailored public persona. At their core, Dorney’s poems explore the inherent fear of being forgotten in an age where even our smallest movements are logged in perpetuity with clicks and keystrokes. The opening poem STILL LIVING best questions this loss of self: