Contemporary and vertiginously terrifying, this important collection of poems about the 1904 World’s Fair, also known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, was written when post-9/11 rhetoric about savages and barbarians was rampant. The poems are a textual analog for the snapshots taken at the fair, which took four years to build and three months to raze to the ground, thus creating a sort of “instant nostalgia.” It was the largest fair ever held: a wonderland and a nightmare, full of opportunities for uplift and cheap amusement, a showcase of consumer goods and of a nation’s prowess, it held the dreams and sins of (unconscious) white America. Spoken through the voices of figures as diverse as the prisoner of war Geronimo, Helen Keller, and African pygmies, this work reveals the dangers of accepting every story society is handed. Astonishingly timely in the contemporary cultural landscape, when all manner of simulacra are offered up in place of the real world and real experience, these prose poems reminds us that, though what is false ultimately fails, failure exacts its price.
Praise for Souvenirs of a Shrunken World
This moving mosaic of the 1904 World’s Fair carries the poignancy of an old family album, a presence at once here and gone. Through the poet’s pitch-perfect ear and keen eye for the voices, vantages and scraps of the actual, come souvenirs of real lives transfixed in the glare of a triumphant technology’s artificial light. —Eleanor Wilner
Excerpt from Souvenirs of a Shrunken World
The park fills with noise, saws, hammers, gossip, complaints about the mud, flies, the cow gone dry. Glad for the work, the lot of us, camped in tents and abandoned streetcars. My Larry hangs plaster, huge gewgaws molded by the Italians, on the palaces taking shape behind falsework.
Baby’s due any day, bigwigs planning a fuss. For the papers, not me. My job is to push her out, then present us proper for the baptism, quaint little family all cleaned up. Priests and dignitaries will press in for the photograph, their faces close to hers in hope of sharing the fame—Louisiana Purchase O’Leary, first-born of the Fair.