Reviewed by Dennis Housh
The End of Pink
American Poets Continuum series
by Kathryn Buernberger
Sept 2016, ISBN-13: 978-1942683148, Paperback: 96 pages
Kathryn Nuernberger’s strange and captivating collection, The End of Pink succeeds at subverting the norm of poetry while maintaining academic integrity. Stylistic choices by Nuernberger typically include writing in expansive chunks of prose that continue to surprise a reader with greater and greater oddities of language and concept. The poems are, for lack of a better word, out-there. And when I say out-there, I mean it, that Nuernberger’s poetic work has a particular and disturbing sense of humor that accompanies her writing on the condition of personal struggles with gender, self, family, and her place in the world.
These struggles typically involve silly but powerful metaphors that hit some kind of truth, but only as much as they miss it. For example, based on the famous exhibits of the American museum owner P.T. Barnum, Nuernberger’s “P.T. Barnum’s Fiji Mermaid Exhibition As I Was Not The Girl I Think I Was” has a speaker that compares herself to the “Fiji zombie-mermaids” that are on display, saying of herself that she is “very ugly and sexually consumptive, although [she] experienced [her]self as a flickering and silver-finned virgin” (line 1-3). As a reader, lines like these are great for a laugh and are telling of a character, but it still falls short of capturing a more accurate reality when writing in contradictions and fictions. But perhaps that is Neurnberger’s point: that something too honest and direct would not capture a reader’s attention like the weirdly interesting and fictitious position her speakers place themselves in.
In the sci-fi poem, “Zoontological Sublime”, Neurnberger’s speaker’s attempts to physically and mentally place their self into the life of an octopus is compared humorously and oddly to a “graduate student / dismantling the rat, viscera by viscera, trying / to find some other way than this way.” (line 82-84). The entire poem is constructed around the ordinary of animals but the extraordinary of animal experience, and what it would be like for a human to become something more than human, less than human, other than human. In the end, the speaker, and by extension, the poet, is admitting that observation is the only way we have of truly relating to the conscious experience of another animal at present, and so the speaker says they shall “watch it wait” within “perfect darkness and perfect silence” (line 99 and line 105). These observations are both humbling and mystifying for a reader, even if they carry a weight of hilarity with them.
Neurenberger’s title poem, “The End of Pink” is like her other black humor pieces with a mind boggling attention to detail and her grossly simple but powerful imagery. The speaker’s opening lines in “The End of Pink” refer to how, after giving birth, the speaker defecated on themselves, resulting in the cringe-worthy line of “[m]y nipples are brown now” (line 1). In this same revolting and eye-opening poem, the speaker moves a dying rodent with “tongs to straighten the sideways spine trapped so unaccountably wrong” because it was too “disgusting to touch” otherwise (line 23-25).
Nuernberger’s unique understanding of her world illustrated in her work is a blend of the realistic and the fantastical in each of her characters and poems. It is Nuernberger’s outside-the-box perspective that is so striking and profound for a reader in The End of Pink. If you are fascinated with lovesickness, badgers, octopi, science, or the grossness and weirdness of human life, then I suggest to you the greatness of Nuernberger’s The End of Pink.