$50,000 is a slice of life narrative, hovering between prose and poetry with a five-standalone-sentences per page format. Advertised as a long poem, it is a great book for poetry-lovers and haters alike as it is modest in its poetical techniques but still packs a hell of a punch. Weatherhead’s poem carries the reader through ‘the unrelenting passage of time, the inevitable need to make a living, and the foreboding beauty of numbers, names, and friendship’ (back-cover blurb). The poet pulls at the strands of life we take for granted but essentially follow a pattern: Weatherhead’s co-workers and friends are de-humanised into letters of the alphabet, as representatives of problems and desires that do not touch the poet’s own life and disappear when he is alone. The narrative is peppered with quotes from people like Mike Tyson, Ted Berrigan, George Foreman, Rodney Dangerfield, Orpah Winfrey, Joy Williams, James Baldwin and more, as well as facts that may not be facts and made-up names a young Weatherhead used when graffitiing walls. Ideas run into windows like birds and facts are flies circling about the room.
I really enjoyed Weatherhead’s way with time in this poem. Now and again we are given dates and throwbacks to the past, while the present seems to shift and move unwillingly forwards. Weatherhead writes ‘The future and the past compete for regrets/And purgatory is the best I can hope for’ (p.49), a fantastic line that made me question whether the present day is purgatory, a limbo between ‘sad’ and ‘okay’ where utter destruction and sublime bliss feel both equally unattainable, working at the edges of the daily cage. He gives insights into technology, both its meaningless and meaning: the suffocating use that can both make you part of something and alienate you. He points out ironies that only true life can possibly provide, such as ’33 people killed by ambulances last year’ and ‘A United States of One-Way Streets’. Despite the generally sombre tone of $50,000 I found this book inspiring, it made me want to note down sentences about my own life and string them together as a narrative, pull at the threads and see what truths I could glean from the facts.
The front cover shows a vicious page of wolves with teeth bared and eyes red, almost crushing each other in their fury. While this image is a beautiful representation of the skills of Robyn O’Neil (www.robynoneil.com), for me it somewhat clashes with the content of the book, which is gently paced, quiet in its desperation, crushing in its layering, but doesn’t possess the ferocity of the wolves. ‘The soul spasms in the space left for it by the flesh’ (p.1) so beautifully describes this ‘crushing’, this suffocating in the spaces left untouched by life. I am also not convinced that the typesetting is right for the book, I would have not chosen standard Times New Roman and add more lines per-page, as I found the spacing a little too big for easy narrative flow. However, these are picky points and really the only areas I can fault this book on.
This book was sent to me digitally for free in exchange for an honest review by Lori Hettler of TNBBC Publicity, a small press book publicist who specializes in literary fiction. Please visit her website: http://tnbbcpublicity.com/ to find out how you could get your book promoted!
Andrew Weatherhead is the author of the poetry collections Cats and Dogs (Scrambler Books, 2014) and Todd (Monster House Press, 2018). He lives in New York City and used to work in health insurance.