Lying Next to a Cute Li‘l Spud
I met Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle in person for the first and only time at a poetry event in Auckland last year. We were both reading poems for Sad Girls poetry night at Artspace, an event that was part of Natasha Matila-Smith’s solo exhibition I think you like me but I’ve been wrong about these things before.
It was my first poetry reading in years, and my first since being back in New Zealand. I was really anxious because I hadn’t written any new poetry in a long time, nor had I read it in public. And I hadn’t been around a mass of art people in ages. I felt weird. When it finished, I rushed to leave with my mum and sister, so I didn’t have to say hi to anybody. But I said hi to Zarah before that. She had also read poetry that night, and it’s courteous to acknowledge the other readers. But also, I really liked her writing. We bonded briefly over how weird the literati of Aotearoa are and have become. And then I skulked off to eat noodles.
I read her second and latest book, Nostalgia Has Ruined My Life, in like, an hour. Honestly, I think it is the funniest book I have ever read. For sure the funniest poetry book I have ever read. I don’t know if that’s an exaggeration or the truth because I have a terrible memory and literally can reread a book or rewatch a movie I have apparently read or seen and not remember any of it. But I was literally laughing out loud the whole time while I was reading it. Just ask my boyfriend, who was trying to watch Suits.
I’ve also decided I hate writing reviews. I guess I’ve always thought a review should have an element of criticality to it, but I just want to write about cool things, the things I like. I really like this book, so here are a few (by no means all) of the reasons I like it:
It’s a nice size. It’s not too long, which is possibly why I like reading poetry – you can read a book and feel like you’ve achieved a lot because you read it from start to finish, and it only took you an hour or two.
It has a cute cover. Zarah is lying on a sheet next to a red-skinned potato. It looks like she’s looking at it quite fondly, which might seem odd initially, but once you read the book, you can totally imagine Zarah (or the narrator, if that’s not Zarah) lying next to a li‘l spud and it would be cute.
The poems are not too long. Are they even poems? Or are they prose? Are they prose poems? The eternal question on every poet’s lips. Whatever the case, they are all mostly confined to one page, and many are less. Sometimes long poems can just be… too long. None of them have titles either, so you could read it as one long but not linear narrative. Or a series of vignettes. Or just like, however you want, idk. And they’re not too ‘poetry-ish’ if you know what I mean. 100 points for accessibility.
It almost too accurately describes the feeling of existential ennui and nihilism of a thirty-something millennial. I felt personally attacked in nearly every poem. Like Zarah just seems to get that feeling of stuckness. Having no ambition, wanting but also not wanting anything to happen, the self-fulfilling entropy of your life.
This book is really smart. Like, really smart. I could say that this is a meditation on women’s bodies under capitalism. About pseudo-individualisation and labour and capitalism’s obsessive conflation of self-worth with how much money you make and what you do for a job. About our bodies as machines. And how broken bodies don’t work well in a society that strives for the illusion and image of perfection, because perfect bodies don’t break down, and perfect bodies don’t take sick days, and perfect bodies work long hours and don’t get tired and don’t need time off and perfect bodies make you more money. And how people don’t know what to do with people who don’t fit in. I could talk about how men are trash. And how staunchly this book embodies women’s reproductive rights. I could talk about all this and I could laugh about it too, but the book already does that for you.
Somehow Zarah can talk about puerile things and still seem elegant. Is she a Virgo?
I should also note that the narrator has disabilities and chronic illnesses that are talked about a lot. As an able-bodied person with good health, there are descriptions of her experience with these conditions in this book that I have no experience with.
5) As I said, it’s literally one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Funny haha, and like funny in a disturbed way, which is always the best kind. It’s super irreverent. Somehow Zarah can talk about puerile things and still seem elegant. Is she a Virgo?
Anyway, here are some of my favourite lines from the book. I honestly went through and highlighted my favourite line from every poem that I wanted to share with you all, but that ended up taking three whole pages, and I still actually want people to go read the book, so I won’t give everything away. But here are some of the lines that had me chuckling, cackling, screaming, etc. My boyfriend now had his headphones on.
I think I need to have an emotional experience with a dolphin. I think that would help me, if not a baby.
I was about to enjoy this cereal but then I remembered I’m not allowed to enjoy anything because I don’t have a job.
The dress I’m wearing smells like mould but it’s somewhat comforting.
The pain in my jaw makes it difficult for me to bite into apples and to give blowjobs for too long.
When he’s going down on me, psoriasis flakes from my thigh fall into his mouth, accidentally.
I’m starved for validation so I’m still focusing on the dopamine boost I got from someone complimenting my pubic hair three days ago
I had a brief period last week where I didn’t hate everyone. But now I’m back to hating everyone.
He thinks I’m about to give him a blowjob but I’m just bending down to tie my shoe.
I finally get ringworm. Something new in my life.
I say my hand is too sore to give him a handjob right now because of the arthritis in my hand.
Someone I loved once put their fingers in their ears while I was crying. I’m bored of myself too.
Cum hitting the psoriasis on my elbow made my elbow sting. His ex had psoriasis too, maybe that was his type
I want to date someone who has been bullied so their self-esteem is a bit low and therefore they won’t leave me because they don’t think they can do better than me, but not so low that they’re self-destructive and self-loathing and unable to accept someone liking or loving them.
My mother called me and said, ‘Ok I did a depression test pretending to be you and the results said to seek help urgently.’
Now I’m getting fingered surrounded by stuffed animals. I keep seeing his face as a clown’s face. Did I see him as a clown somewhere before we met. His dick looks like a slug.
TLDR: This is a really great book and you should definitely buy it and read it. Zarah’s ability to write about some seriously twisted situations in a tragi-comic way, and shed light on the fucked-up-ness of capitalism and women’s bodies, makes for a stunner of a read! Zarah is hilarious and I want to be her. And I think Zarah would hate this, but the book is sexy and hot lol.
Nostalgia Has Ruined My Life is published by Giramondo