Thicke & Vaney Books, 130 pages, paperback, $11.95
Can a book of poetry be thematically obsessed with a neutral object and then turn out to be simultaneously touching, bizarre, and hilarious? If the book in question is Justin Grimbol’s Minivan Poems, the answer is yes. Don’t worry, there is not literary pun waiting around the bend or some profound transmutation halfway through the book that results in the minivan becoming something entirely different. No, this is really a collection of short poems about Grimbol’s minivan. You could call it experimental, but beautiful and strange fit it much better.
Now you’re asking yourself how such a book, one filled with short poems about a minivan, could merit a review. Well, the answer is easy: the poet manages to take what could’ve been a joke that got old after three poems and infuse it with enough candor, heart, and humor to make it a truly interesting literary project deserving of the very short time it takes to read it. Here’s how it happens: you start reading, you chuckle at the collection of butts that show up in the first few pages, you start thinking that you have the collection figured out, and then Grimbol hits you with this:
Stares at the missing steeple
Of my mother’s church
She is dead now and my Minivan’s
High beams look for her darkness
You were laughing, but now the joke is over. Then the poems keep coming. Some are hilarious because the minivan is treated like a person, but some make you think that Grimbol is just using the vehicle to talk about his life, to let you know things bout himself. Other poems are silly and you kind of forget them as soon as you start reading the next one, but other linger and maybe reach inside you and touch something you didn’t expect to be touched, especially not by a book about a minivan. By that point, not finishing the book is impossible. You know that the minivan is the minivan and the poet is the poet, but there are instances in which you suspect that dividing line is blurred or disappears altogether. This is an old trick in poetry, but I’d never seen it used quite like it’s used here. As you read on, themes come up and make themselves clear. Love, church, traveling, a passion for the outdoors and taking in scenery, and even derrieres all keep coming back to you time and again. Despite these themes, what strikes you most is the gorgeous simplicity of Grimbol’s writing:
Hears sexy saxophones
In old bridges
The rumps of fireflies
And closed up store fronts
By the time Minivan Poems ends, pigeonholing the book into any known literary space is impossible. Sure, this is poetry, but it’s also a love letter, an autobiographical book, an experiment, and a text that walks a fine line between bizarro and comedy, heartfelt comedy. The only thing that’s clear is that Grimbol is one of those authors whose unpredictable and constantly publishing unique, strange books full of heart, and it’s almost impossible not loving him for it.
Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of Zero Saints, Gutmouth, Hungry Darkness, and a few other things no one will ever read. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.