Tin House Books, 2018
REVIEWED BY GABINO IGLESIAS
Bianca Stone’s The Möbius Strip Club of Grief is a tricky, multilayered poetry collection that lures readers in with its ease of access and wild, entertaining premise before slashing their throats with sharp doses of pain, truth, and a its pull-no-punches exploration of grief. The books door open into the loud, colorful immediacy of a burlesque purgatory where everyone is either watching of being watched, judging of being judge (by other and by the inescapable self), performing or being part/witnessing a performance. It looks, sounds, and feels like a festive place, but the underlying pain is as present as a bad rash on the face. Take, for example, the stripper in “Lap Dance”:
I think everyone’s glad I’m dead, said the stripper
with the caved-in face. Her fingers were bone and no
sinew. She flapped her arms at the two wrens
caught up in the rafters, staring down
on the empty dance hall. Chirps rained like sparks
from the electric saws in their hearts.
No one here is glad anyone is dead. But
there is a certain comfort in knowing
the dead can entertain us, if we wish.
The vivid, somewhat chaotic first third of the collection is an illustrated map of the place. However, the spatial specificity begins to fade away as the writing begins to tackle a plethora of themes that reach beyond the confines of the imaginary place. Soon death, math, pain, Emily Dickinson, memories, insecurities, and even murder show up to make the universe of the place richer and to obliterate any sense of safety the imaginary walls may have granted the reader. Eventually, the writing inhabits different spaces that range from pure memory to poems that read like (de/in)struction manuals for loss, which is the case with “How Not”:
Be completely dispassionate about the theoretical five stages.
This is an old death, but it’s your death. Complete the stages
in blurring fits of inebriation. Eat everything in sight. Fight
with your mother. Marry Ben in the woods. Fly across
the country. Stand in the street with the raging legless
angel. Hold a brick wall very close to your face.
The success of The Möbius Strip Club of Grief comes from Stone’s ability to constantly surprise and entertain. Her mother, memories, literature, (self)destruction, grief, and confusion are some of the elements that give the collection cohesion, but they are always dealt with differently, so turning the page is always a new adventure regardless of the elements being dealt with.
As the poems progress, the reader becomes discovers the mother as an almost omnipresent figure, the poet’s knack for phrases that turn around and loop themselves, the brevity of some of the strongest poems, and even the bizarre, chameleonic nature of the collection. Then reader becomes part of it. Part of it comes from the fact that there is only so much grief we can deal with before starting to feel it ourselves. The second reason is that, toward the last third of the book, the writing touches on the universal, on the hidden realities that affect us, inhabit us, and shape us. The perfect example is “Apes,” probably my favorite poem in the book:
If it happened at all
it was the apes who won,
and sitting a little apart from Adam,
who was deep into his clothing
the cuff links and soft leather,
pulling the zipper up Eve’s back
and she, clasping the bra shut like a jewelry box—
What to do with this mind?
into the fire and scream
into the internet
that there’s nothing to do
but stand in the dark recesses
throwing a bright red dodge ball
against the bone facade
and fall in and out of love
The Möbius Strip Club of Grief is unique in its structure and execution, and proves that Stone is a voice to be reckoned with, a writer who’s not afraid of suffering and blood, naked flesh and exposed emotion, weirdness and ennui. Now enter the club…if you dare.