Remembering Joe Brainard
Granary Books, 2001.
176 pages, $12.00 (paperback).
I Remember—the meticulous record of Joe Brainard's memory—may be the longest catalog poem in the language. Composed and published in stages, the work in its final incarnation by Granary Books lists 1000+ images at lengths ranging from a single sentence to a paragraph.
The great charm of Brainard's writing—he wrote much more than I Remember—lies in its unswerving honesty and unselfconscious directness. ("I remember closely examining the opening in the head of my cock once, and how it reminded me of a goldfish's mouth.") His list includes green grass knee stains, Davy Crocket hats, pink lemonade, "parking," "petting," attempting to dribble a basketball and failing, etc. etc. etc. Many originate in the humiliation, confusion, and joys of childhood and adolescence—being hit on the head by bird shit, for instance (twice!)—and it was Brainard's simple stroke of genius to group them. The tone of the writing and the collective form of the list gives this book its considerable power as a literary experience. Seductive for being so personal—"I remember sneezing into one's hand and then the problem of what to 'do' with it."—the poem achieves its pathos and humor by a simple rearrangement of context, i.e., by placing the naive in service to the urbane. It's the literary equivalent of Brainard the graphic artist's funny, wise collages and oil paintings. My personal favorite: "I remember a boy I once made love with and after it was all over he asked me if I believed in God."