Sunday, January 15, 2012

Chapbook Review: Creamsicle Blue by Mike DeCapite

Mike DeCapite, Creamsicle Blue. Brooklyn: Sparkle Street Books, 2011. Prose. 27 pages. ISBN: 978-0-9666592-5-2.

Creamsicle Blue is a spectacular piece of writing. Creamsicle Blue is the name of a new chapbook by Mike DeCapite. It contains 27 pages of prose; it takes place in New York and Cleveland and San Francisco and the road in between them; I am hard-pressed to classify it.

I received Creamsicle Blue in the mail on Friday. Soon after I hung up my coat at the end of my work week, I opened the chapbook, printed handsomely with a letterpress cover. I just wanted to glance at the first paragraph or two to get an upshot of the subject matter. But I was drawn in immediately, and didn't put it down until I finished. DeCapite writes about the end of a troubled relationship, and about the end of his father's life; but more than either, he attempts to write the abyss left (or revealed) by those endings. These losses leave him awake in the middle of the night, literally and figuratively, facing what he is and isn't willing to face, what he is and isn't willing to write.

The same night I finished Creamsicle Blue, I dreamt that some non-existent jacket copy said the book was like a "soulfriend" and that the author had traveled often enough to describe places he saw in a fresh and unjaded way. "Soulfriend"—that certainly describes a particular type of book for me. Not a diverting read, not "an entertainment," but a walk down the path with a writer who is honest (and probing) enough that even a personal, specific story strikes at some deeply-felt, shared realizations and unsentimentalized truths.

I especially like watching as DeCapite does the work of getting past his own resistance to his story; he stays with the story long enough to write around his own blocks. Whether he knows it or not, he writes for me, the reader, naming things I've felt but rarely articulated, because they're unpopular or unacceptable thoughts or tendencies, and I've resisted my own writing in their direction. DeCapite understands this unpopularity; he writes through a similar discomfort. And his writer's labor yields rewards. I felt while reading Creamsicle Blue that I was experiencing the gradual recognitions and awarenesses that come from the folding-together of thinking, feeling, writing, and living. That is, sometimes life and writing can seem like two parallel realms—but writing about one's life with a clean enough motivation (considering life as lived and felt) can change both the life and the writing and become a third realm. The author describes walking through the Met and being struck by a tiny Rembrandt drawing of the artist's mother, and remembering why we bother to try to capture something in art: "…it was done with such directness and precision and honesty, and with such obvious love, for his mother and for the truth of that moment and for the details of the world, that it changed my mood. It elevated me. It was a moment that hadn't escaped—this look that passed across this woman's face nearly 400 years ago—one moment that hadn't gone down the black drain of time. Score one for the artists, against death!" So, too, does DeCapite record with precision some small but vital moments of his life and consciousness, saving them from indifference, nonexistence, or the wash of time.

I'm reminded by Creamsicle Blue of what one art school professor used to say to us, that society pressures us to "hold ourselves together" but the work of an artist is the opposite—to break things apart (even ourselves) and expose their mechanisms. After reading DeCapite's chapbook I didn't feel like I'd watched some characters or scenes the writer painted for my mind's eye, as much as I felt naked. I felt like he'd exposed or unraveled some pieces of me I wasn't entirely comfortable revealing. Not only unraveled parts of me, but showed me how I was trying to hold those parts together, against their will. Though uncomfortable, I also relaxed a little after reading Creamsicle Blue, as if to say, There's no need to strain in that direction anymore.

This chapbook may be the essence of the small press, to my mind. Twenty-seven pages of the author's head, a few months or several years of the author's life, nothing the publisher's marketing department can brand. It's like a delicate, subtle poem by an unknown poet, but without the literary niceties that charm readers into reading even difficult poems. It's not quite an essay, though I think it does some of the mental work that essays do. It doesn't have quite the shape of a story, though it may have the scope of a novel; and I don't think it's what people call Creative Nonfiction, though that genre might choose to claim it. If I decided to call it anything, I might call it a writer's meditation. Following the uncharted, DeCapite forges a path found only by writing in the quietest moments, by paying attention to the silences in between words and events, and by walking around his city, struggling with the unsayable.


Creamsicle Blue is available in Brooklyn at Spoonbill & Sugartown and Book Thug Nation, in Toronto at Volume, and in Cleveland at Mac's Backs and Visible Voice Books. On the web you can buy the book (and read more about the author) at Sparkle Street Books:


the dirty poet said...

wow. sounds like you liked it. i'll have to check it out.

Mac's Backs said...

This is a very thoughtful review and a literary tribute to Creamsicle Blue. I am glad to add soulfriend to my vocabulary and "writer's meditation" is a deeply apt designation.
~ Suzanne DeGaetano