Angela Szczepaniak’s Unisex Love Poems files alphabetical suit against a whole host of typographical errors that sentence us to symptomatic reading, through typecast eyes. By hailing their audience from a number of sites that are just around the bend of contemporary cultural plausibility, Szczepaniak’s narratroopers get the drop on some of the most deeply entrenched fonts of folly on the phoneme farm we’re all so damned committed to.
This series of riposte cards from the edge re-cooks the cookbooks, restores manual control over the dating conventions and puts the [sic] in the forensics that govern our daily lives. Of course, Szczepaniak knows better than to waste her imagination on a world completely free of these (and other, itchier, twitchier) irritants. For better or worse, the dietary, romantic and juridical models that we’ve inherited are here to stay.
The situation, the author appears to be saying, calls for rash action–and that’s exactly what we get, when Slug of apartment 5d begins running a diagnostic check on the brailled blemishes (each one a perfect letter h) that have torsaded his torso. Assuming that something within the building is responsible for this calligraphic callousness, he leaves no dust mote unturned–and no door un-knocked. The neighbors prove singularly unsympathetic to his quest, but he does make one ally of sorts: Butterfingers–the woman in apt. 4f–whose gossamered glossolalia provides an interesting verbal analog for his dermatological condition.
Together, these two chart a possibly-unnavigable course across a sea of experiences composed of equal parts affliction and affection. The author salts their tale with an extraordinary array of textual urchins–shuffling in excerpts from his-and-hers Victorian advice tomes (suitable to any occasion–from a tea party to the End of Days), affable spiders (and their less charming bites), character-acted cartoons, carnal recipes (for the likes of “Stomach Butterflies,” “Honeycombed Heart” and “Tied Tongue”–each one handsomely illustrated) and a lively team of 3-inch tall lawyers (Spitz and Spatz), whose petal-to-your-mettle talk will absolutely floor you. This last pair actually brings a whole raft of other concerns in their wake–including a memorably absurd take on (or take-down of) Lockean possessive individualism. Their dynamic relationship also generates a welter of–what?–wisdom?–that might answer to the worst of the distress caused by the welts (upon Slug’s person and Butterfingers’ versin’) in question.
In fact, by the time you reach the end of Unisex Love Poems, your guess will be as good as mine as to whose story has been interpolated into whose. This inventive study of life in the imperfect tense and the beatifics of bickering will chuff that kind of guff right out of your mush. You’ll be too busy preparing for that big date in court. Bring flowers. You never know whom they might impress.