The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2020

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MAR 2020 Issue
Art Books

Robin Richardson’s Try Not to Get Too Attached

A visual-verbal poetry collection combines the wry humor of a teenage girl and the dark wisdom of a grown woman.

Robin Richardson
Try Not to Get Too Attached
(Book*hug, 2019)

One of the earlier pages in Robin Richardson’s slim square book of visual-verbal poetry shows a Joan of Arc like woman clad in armour donned with the phrase “addicted to discomfort.” She’s presented in black and white, like a stamp, linocut print, or a medieval crest. On the following page is a missile with flowers blossoming out of it. It sails over a black circle with the words “it’s not okay/and that’s okay.” Richardson’s typewriter-style lines of text (which are all rendered by hand), embedded in what can only be described as medieval-style emojis, are bittersweet, at once the wry humor of a teenage girl and the dark wisdom of a grown woman.

Images like the wordless juicy lips, recalling the raunchy punk aesthetic of an angsty teenager, and another Joan of Arc figure with the ornate lettering “YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT SHE'S CAPABLE OF,” are full of anger and fire. But more effective than these are the subtler pairings. Two facing pages, for example, show flowers with “Truth gets me wet” opposite a choking hand reaching towards the reader with the words, “i love your world he said just keep it to yourself.” Joan of Arc, afterall, was tried and burned at the stake, and the danger that awaits women who speak up or break ranks hovers over this collection. As I write this, two women are testifying against one of Hollywood’s biggest star makers, no doubt at great cost to themselves. As Richardson writes, “something about sex & weakness.”

But Richardson’s poems also betray a deep vulnerability. A drawing of a tree is surrounded by the lines, “you give your all until you’re all used up and then you get to say that you’ve survived.” The book also includes twelve prose poems printed on light orange paper between the drawings. Like the breathless thoughts of James Joyce’s Molly Bloom, the words run justified to each margin without punctuation. No clear narrative and with the free flow of internal thoughts, they jump from one association to another. Some read more innocuous, “he said we had to get matching tattoos,” with only a hint of possible hazards. Others are more overtly unsettling: “the trouble with wanting a thing is the thing is never what you think you met a man you made a promise broke the promise.” Broken promises run throughout, as Richardson’s visual poetics tackle the dismantling of social contracts, and the difficulty in fulfilling commitments to one another.

One prose poem loosely describes the speaker envying an older couple: “they hang narratives on their love then die for a theme the lovers are supposed to make us feel good awhile then not so much.” Richardson weaves a compelling story about the disillusionment of women raised on fairytale romance, only to find that “the happy ending walks into a bar ouch your attachment to outcomes is suffocating you the happy couple.” Her writing is choppy and brief, recalling the greats of the New York School of Poets, Frank O’Hara and Joe Brainard who both similarly conveyed deep emotional complexity through everyday language (and Brainard too combined images and texts in his work), and much in the vein of our current digital communication style. The internet is a constant battle between brevity and duration. The brevity of communication—short messages, short attention spans—juxtaposed with the length of time we spend on it—endlessly scrolling before we realize hours have passed.

Richarson’s title, Try Not to Get Too Attached, is part of this battle of brevity and duration, as well as a platitude often spoken to women, imagined to be under the thralls of their uncontrollable emotional attachments. The collection speaks to the condition of being a woman alone in the world: how we move; how we navigate our (dangerous) bodies in this (dangerous) landscape, when we only have ourselves to keep us strong. As Richardson writes, “you come from a long line of living alone as the happiest couple in the world.”


Megan N. Liberty

Megan N. Liberty is the Art Books Editor at the Brooklyn Rail. Her interests include text and image, artists’ books and ephemera, and archive curatorial practices.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2020

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