Review of Mark Gurarie’s EVERYBODY’S AUTOMAT

Everybody’s Automat
Mark Gurarie. The Operating System, $16 paperback (113p) ISBN: 978-0-986-05054-1

     Mark Gurarie explores the vast capabilities of musical language and how the composition of words can invoke subtle meaning and lyricism in Everybody’s Automat. Gurarie’s words penetrate readers as if he’s been hiding in a corner of everyone’s lives, capturing the strange interactions, failures, and memories that plague us. This collection stands as an ode to music. It’s also a lamentation of our sorrows and mistakes and how we speak to each other.
     Gurarie’s title is extremely interesting in its function within the collection. An automat, being a kind of fast food eatery that serves its goods through vending machines, is especially fitting for Gurarie’s poems. He writes for the everyman through his poems, serving readers their fears and disjointed thoughts. His collection is “everybody’s automat” which implies a very universal kind of world and experience.
     Another important aspect deeply embedded within his work is the influence of John Cage and Erik Satie – both esteemed and celebrated music composers – which appeals to Gurarie’s innate musical proficiencies with language. It is apparent that he highly regards these two figures, and attempts to combine this admiration within his diction and composition.
     Prevalent throughout the collection are unlikely pairings that force reflection. This in turn leads to introspection hours after reading Gurarie’s work. This is seen in “Transmission 10.04.57”:

We in hand two drafts of the fire fountain, we
intend to rectify this levity, your numinous breathing.
To defy this drift prophetically, show us your foundations.

     The ambiguity of what is happening in the poem is quite beautiful – this line encapsulates these whisper-like visions Gurarie creates for his readers. Phrases like “numinous breathing” and “drafts of the fire fountain” are examples of this figurative language. Gurarie creates these abstract couplings while making them sing. Also the use of “we”, “us”, and “your” reinforces this idea of commonalities and ambiguity of identity, furthering the collection’s title.
     Gurarie continues to explore this kind of language in a section of the book called “Sentimental Animals”. He travels through fragmented memories, real and unreal, posing life in a lyrical format:

In the belly of the East
where one does not often
play cold blooded so much as dream
the way, find me too foraging
in the waste barrel for a belly full.

     There is a parallel here with “in the belly of the East” and “in the waste barrel for a belly full”. Gurarie plays with words to create interesting stanzas like this one. His aptitude for word play and composition shine through to create these moments.
     At the core of all these poems is an innate musicality that drives home the concept of language being another medium or form of music. This is a strong suit of Gurarie’s – due to his empirical knowledge of both composing and playing music, he is able to craft lines of melody within his written work. In the poem “Dove” he writes:

Your reasoning dissolves even
in the most tenuous of circumstances,
in the sparkling of crystals, in the silica itself.

     This entire stanza rings softly with “s” sounds, an ambient light peeking through the structure of the language. The last two words of the stanza embody this and provide a completion to the music with “silica itself”. There is a linguistic quality that is paralleled in his poems. Each may carry a different tone or mood, yet they all float with Gurarie’s sparkling phonetic composition.
     It’s hard to read Gurarie’s work silently. It’s structured and carefully arranged in such a way that demands the strum of vocal chords. Poetry is a natural fit for Gurarie; within his poems he can slow down, rev up, or let notes hang in the attic of the reader’s mind. Everybody’s Automat is truly an exploration of language and how it can be manipulated into music. (April 2016)

Purchase Everybody’s Automat HERE.

Reviewer bio: Morgan Leigh Plessner is an English Major and Photo Minor at the University of New Hampshire.