I acquired this digital copy of Dirty Pretty Things by Michael Faudet via NetGalley.
tl;dr: Read this book if you “don’t like, don’t read” poetry.
For some reason, I was disproportionately excited about finally getting a copy of Faudet’s poetry book. Perhaps it’s because I’ve read and liked Lang Leav’s Love & Misadventure, and because the nature of their relationship resulted in the expected cross-promotion on my newsfeed. You probably encountered the hype for both, even if you’re not the poetry-reading type. The promotional work was extremely well done and quite likely contributed to its great success.
According to his blurb everywhere, this book is a “#1 Best Seller”. It was also a Goodreads Readers Choice Award Nominee for Poetry last year, but everyone (including Leav’s Memories) lost out to Trista Mateer and her second poetry collection The Dogs I Have Kissed.
A quick note about an unpleasant discovery when I ventured into poetry books: they’re ridiculously expensive. I bought Love & Misadventures for RM64.95. Later on, I ordered Sarah Kay’s No Matter the Wreckage from Book Depository for around RM65. I picked up a few more books from Kinokuniya Malaysia for around that price range. When Dirty Pretty Things arrived in the Big City, my friend looked it up for me and told me it was nearly RM80. That’s 10% of minimum wage here. I make more than minimum wage but that’s still one week of groceries, or two to three new novels, or 10 books from the secondhand book fair. And with exception of Leav’s three books, it’s nearly impossible to find any book of contemporary poetry in Kuching, Sarawak. The fact that the book store staff knew who she was is considered a miracle by the general reader populace here.
Anyway, it was my first galley from NetGalley and I spent far too much time grappling with ADE and trying to get this book on my iPad. Finally, I was ready to get started.
Leav wrote the introduction to the book, which was not unexpected. She shed some light on how they met, and that they already share a similar aesthetic, which you’d notice if you’ve read both their work. She talked about how their writing brought them together. What writer won’t find that terribly romantic and who won’t want a match who’s also their creative soulmate?
A bunch of pages in and I was already getting this uncomfortable feeling like I have overextended my expectations of the book.
Nonetheless, I soldiered on but I was making updates on both my Litsy and Goodreads account as I went along. But the sinking feeling continued. One of the big problems I had with Dirty Pretty Things is that the poems appear on one page, followed by a blank page. I grabbed my copy of Love & Misadventure (it’s from the same publisher) and found the same thing, cept that I didn’t really notice it with physical book. On an iPad, it’s an extra swipe. I also got quite irritated by this:
There were many of these one-liners, and some were good but the others seemed like an awful waste of a page. I mean, I’ve shot off a repartee or two on Facebook every now and then and gotten a lot of likes for it. I wouldn’t have thought to compile them all in a book for prosperity, but maybe that’s why I’m toiling in obscurity instead of being a best-selling author.
Okay, I don’t hate it all. There’s a few in there that I liked, including a couple of one-liners. And you gotta admit that the pithy stuff fits nicely in a social media graphic, doesn’t leave things hanging the way an excerpt from a novel does, and can be enjoyed whether or not you go looking for the rest of it. Here’s a couple of images I posted on Litsy.
The examples I posted here are pretty PG. Others in the book are naughty. If you are widely read, it’s probably nothing you haven’t seen before… maybe just not in blunt bit and pieces with little build-up.
^How gorgeous is this one?
There’s a few longer pieces – short stories or flash fiction. I felt that those were more substantial. Faudet is capable of writing some engaging prose; I enjoyed those more and wonder how he’d fare writing a novel.
I spent many days pondering a great number of things about the poetry power couple and their books, namely:
- Why I enjoyed Love & Misadventure enough to haunt my local book store until they coughed up Lullaby;
- Why I hated Lullaby and refused to go anywhere near Memories;
- Why my local book store even had all the above when they don’t even stock chapbooks by local poets;
- Why all four are runaway bestsellers when I’ve read better collections;
- Why the books from both poets had the same paper-wasting book-fluffing strategy;
- Why better poets out there are virtually unheard of outside the poetry scene while we had queues of people in KL waiting to meet Leav during her stop in Kinokuniya;
- Why it all bugged me so much.
Fixi Novo, one of the alternative independent publishers here, have this statement in the Fixi Novo manifesto #6:
6. We publish novels and short story anthologies.
We don’t publish poetry; we like making money.
It’s simple enough: the bottom line is the bottom line.
Before Faudet became a poet, he spent 18 years in advertising, winning international awards along the way. You can read all about it on any of his social media accounts and in his book. You can see it working on any of his (and Leav’s) social media accounts. If he could to bottle up and sell his strategy on how to stay viral and visible without turning into annoying spam, he would have a bestselling bottle.
He also knows that the audience isn’t existing poetry lovers, which in my uneducated guess and limited experience, is a small and difficult niche. The audience is the reshare-retweet-reblog generation who can relate to a stark love/lust/longing/loss statement from a piece of jpg, and share it with their own audience. Suddenly, poetry is trendy and people are buying it up and sighing dreamily at every page.
There are pros and cons to this. People are starting to consume poetry where they might not have cared for it before. I can say this because I’m one of them. I never liked poetry until I got into poetry slams and spoken word. Love & Misadventure was the first legit poetry book I ever read, and I loved it enough to go looking for more. I spent a lot of money on them, careful to pick poets I am absolutely sure I would like.
Without realising it, I got better at appreciating written poetry while at the same time, I wrote a lot of my own. I think this is why Lullaby felt jarringly repetitious and sophomoric, as did Dirty Pretty Things (cept more explicit). My tastes have simply evolved since Love & Misadventure. I still own that book and I’m afraid to reread it now in case I end up hating it.
Dirty Pretty Things was the first ARC I downloaded from NetGalley and I was ready to give it all the stars. I wanted to sigh dreamily at every page. Instead I made a Twilight/50 Shades comparison.
The first time I did it was here in the comments when someone else inquired about the book on IG.
A photo posted by Georgette Tan (@georgettetan) on
And then this happened:
(Note to self: In 2016, they can see you if you use the correct hashtag and key phrases, unlike in 2006 when your newspaper didn’t even have a website to put your book reviews on.)
Bitter Sweet Love (expected release: November 2016) looks similar to Dirty Pretty Things and I don’t think I’d like a sequel. No hint of what the third book is. A novel perhaps? But I’ll cross that bridge when I get there…