What Hollywood Taught Me. Poems by Alison Taverna, selected by Ching-In Chen as co-winner of the 2015 Robin Becker Chapbook Prize.
Publication: May 31, 2016 [100 copies]
Cover design by Kinsley Stocum.
“I don’t need the truth,” Alison Taverna tells Justin Bieber, then turning out to us, “he is only a child and only for a little longer.” Make no mistake: the poems in What Hollywood Taught Me are the truth, a whip-smart implication of not only Justin Bieber, Caitlyn Jenner, Oprah Winfrey, and McDonald’s apple pies, but all of us. In fact, these poems are the new America: tabloid-rich and gender-queer, sad and hopeful, abusive and salvational. Taverna’s Hollywood is a world, she tells us, that “makes you belong to other people,” from the guitarist in a cover band with mud-caked construction boots to a suicidal Robin Williams, his hands a “loop of red scratches, traces/ of jungle vines wrapped like weights, once there.” Taverna’s Hollywood has a lot to teach us all.
–D. Gilson, Assistant Professor of English at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts
Alison Taverna’s What Hollywood Taught Me is a tinsel town after party and you are its plus one. All the stars are there: Lindsay Lohan and Oprah. Caitlyn Jenner and Justin Bieber. Robin Williams and Peg Entwistle, the 1930s starlet who famously jumped to her death from the Hollywood sign, receive tender elegies, flickering as if still on the silver screen. There is reverence here as well as the canny skepticism of a speaker who arrives not star struck but ready to turn the illusion to her own use. Gender is plastic and mutable, unrecognizable in its various costumes. “This is Los Angeles,” Taverna writes, “where everything resembles everything”–a mimesis that makes it just as easy to hide as to be seen. Both options offer their comfort but no clear path through to the self. In the opening poem, Justin Bieber, the collection’s focal character, performs a blessing: “It’s okay, sometimes, to be mistaken for who you are,” and with it we fall headlong into poems that consider and celebrate identity in all its glorious complexity. In one poem, Oprah asks her guest, Raven Symone, “how do we say anything without being afraid?” If you’re Alison Taverna, the answer might be–you don’t, not really–but you write the poems anyway. I admire this project, the intelligence, imagination, and heart behind it. These poems are jewel-dense and muscled and Alison Taverna’s is a clear new voice we need.
–Sheila Squillante, Associate Director, MFA Program and Assistant Professor at Chatham University
Alison Taverna holds an MFA in Poetry from Chatham University. Her work has appeared in Hobart and Paterson Literary Review. She is currently the managing editor at Autumn House Press and the poetry instructor at Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts High School.
When No One Is Looking
I’m in the bathtub with Justin,
his Calvins full of water. He found
the website Lesbians Who Look Like
Justin Bieber. He hasn’t flipped his hair
since. This morning, I couldn’t tell
my mother to stop passing me girl jeans
under the dressing room door.
These are the moments that keep us dying.
Together, we are the speculated.
Water settles lukewarm. The suds
hoop our bodies and help them disappear.
Justin, will you pass me your arrowed hips,
the bottom dip of your voice? Here, take
my soft jaw, the spoon curve of lips.
Wait, this is your diamond earring.
I rescued it from a different life.