The French Exit by Elisa Gabbert
Birds LLC, 2012; 69 pp
Reviewed by Vladislav Fredrick


The French Exit is an aptly named collection, its poems snapshot memories of Gabbert’s life carrying more feeling than a freshly developed Polaroid. Gabbert’s work digs into matters of human concern, shows readers the trains of worry they are so often wont to ride. These fantastically lensed photos of humanity are presented with a harmony that preserves consistent narrative flow while allowing for variance in both style and form. The frank tone of Gabbert’s poetry is often coupled with a sense of appreciation for the ironic, a certain tongue-in-cheek approach to tasting the world, as can be felt in the following excerpt from “Poem with attempted suicide and/or autoerotic asphyxiation”:

When the boredom hits,
I hit the boredom

like a glass door. Oh my god,
what am I for? I would throw

a game of solitaire;
I would throw myself

off the trail.
But for the railing, 

I’m this close
to deforestation porn--

Paired lines are a favored form of delivery within The French Exit, and Gabbert delivers them with brevity and punch, often splitting apart actions in order to propel readers forward from stanza to stanza. The frequent employment of the “I,” the first-person narrative, is the final spark of light that ignites the Polaroid, that allows these snapshots of humanity to develop and to be felt as real and whole through Gabbert’s eyes.

Camera Obscura

Candelabra on the wainscotting, hairline fracture
on the ceiling. An ancient stereopticon

leaves dust rings around my eyes. This tiny room
cannot contain my desire. My desire

flaps and beats against the walls
like an idiot bird trapped inside the flute

The poems of The French Exit are like desire as it is expressed in the above excerpt of “Camera Obscura”: too large and loud to be contained by a room so small as the pages of a book, yet too wonderful to be allowed to escape unseen.