Dear Lil Wayne, by Lauren Ireland. Magic Helicopter Press, forthcoming. 76 pages. $11.00, paper.
Although the epistolary poem has been around since the Roman Empire, it has taken a new turn with the advent of social media. Nowadays, the subjects of letters are much easier to reach; poets don’t need to be as hypothetical in communication. If we like Kevin Bacon’s performance in last night’s episode of The Following, we can tweet him to let him know, and he might actually read and retweet our message to show how much he cares. That said, if we tweet him to say, “Nice Prada shirt you’re wearing right now,” things might get uncomfortable.
In Dear Lil Wayne, Lauren Ireland explores this line where one’s desire to connect through letters can go beyond the comfort zone of the recipient. The book contains a series of letters dated July 2010 to April 2011, which, the speaker writes, “I sent … to Lil Wayne during and after his incarceration. He never wrote back.” Whether or not anyone actually sent the letters is beside the point; readers will get the sense of connectedness mixed with humor mixed with potential non sequitur mixed with overreaching, anyway.
At times, Ireland seems to be poking fun at the limitations of the letter while simultaneously reflecting on the inherent loneliness of a one-sided conversation. A prime example of this coupling can be found in the poem “July 29 2010”:
I wish I was basically made of fists. I wish I was dazzling and tough. I think I might be unlucky in love. Do you hate everything that isn’t on the inside? I know exactly what you mean.
Throughout the book, Ireland balances concerns with mortality, sadness, and other philosophical concepts with the celebration of hip-hop slang, poetic language, and irreverent juxtaposition. At her best, Ireland is able to draw on both snarky humor and genuine pathos at the same time; the humor eases the pain that surrounds it. The poem “February 24 2011” encapsulates a sense of isolation and desperation, but Ireland interrupts the emotional weight with amusing references to Lil Wayne lyrics, which, to the uninitiated, might appear to be non sequiturs:
Dear Lil Wayne,
Do you ever wish you could just die? I’m not saying this because I do; I’m saying this because I do. Sameness is terrifying. Everything startles me. I put my phone on vibrate. I avoid the racetrack. Last night, Max made me listen to a young rapper spitting codeine and blood. I wonder why young people aren’t more sad. I wonder why I give up. I think you’re right—I’m going to fly. I’m going to go totally hard, just like you said. I have to be honest with you, though: I’ve never seen a geese erection.
By gleaning an array of elements from the Lil Wayne lexicon, Ireland seems to be laughing at the rapper’s lyrics at times—or, more specifically, laughing at how they appear outside their intended context—but primarily basking in their absurdist appeal. Surely fans of Lil Wayne will find a lot to enjoy about this book, but the main audience for Dear Lil Wayne should include people who are interested in how non-celebrities believe it’s appropriate to write themselves into celebrities’ stories, and how these non-celebrities struggle to get their letters answered.
Daniel M. Shapiro is a special education teacher who lives in Pittsburgh. His new book of poems, How the Potato Chip Was Invented, is available from sunnyoutside.