The first thing one notices when picking up Jeff Alessandrelli's new chapbook Don't Let Me Forget To Feed The Sharks (Poor Claudia, 2012), which the editors printed in a limited-run of 150 copies, is the care and attention paid to the object itself.
A removable and weighted cover made of cross-hatched card stock encases the handmade artifact and provides a personal but austere greeting. In addition to the understated, material elegance of the object, the cover art sets a complex tone. A man in a wet suit, drawn by the artist Ian Huebert, adorns both the front and the back covers and seems to tell us that we mustn't forget to feed the sharks with ourselves. This, of course, could be interpreted either as self-deprecating humor or self-annihilatingly ominous.
The book inside is stitch-bound and printed on fine-quality paper; the text is set in Didot font, while front matter and titles are set in ITC Blair. Such craftsmanship and typesetting offer the perfect setting for the writing of Alessendrelli.
Just as Huebert's drawings offer multiple registers of tone, so too do the poems therein. For instance, Alessandrelli occasionally writes in an aphoristic vein. Sometimes these aphorisms are absurd, as when he writes: "The first step / Is realizing that by its very existence / The strawberries and cream parfait / Is smarter than you" (7); while at other times, they contain a pragmatic gravitas: "lies solve / Actual problems" (23).
On other occasions, the speaker of these poems creates heart-wrenching verse that imbues the text with melancholia. Take the following excerpt from the prose poem "Spring in the New Year":
According to the fancy new guidebook I bought, you don't go crazy all by yourself. Out of some freshly sealed envelope of darkness, every morning we have to invent the sun in order to see it, have to invent the sky's cherry-blue backdrop in order to witness the sun's milky light. Eventually there comes a point, though, when our inventions fail us: patentless, faulty, we wake up in some vaguely familiar pitch black. Yesterday was different we think, without entirely understanding how or why. (21)
With echoes of Beckett's Endgame, Alessandrelli's speaker acknowledges both the necessity of human invention, but also its inevitable failure: reveling in its power to construct a beautiful world, but tempered by a swift and unexplained vanishing.
Finally, there are also moments of exceptional wit. Quoting a section of the serial poem "It Is Especially Dangerous To Be Conscious of Oneself," which appears intermittently throughout the collection, we find the lines from which the title of the chapbook is taken:
All morning long I've been walkingthe plank and still haven't hitwater. Don't let me forgetto feed the sharks.They have a half-defined tendencyto unfairly react to things like that. (3)
It is these oscillations in tone, Alessandrelli's ability to "piece [together] the required sentences / ...of a heretofore new language" (15), as well as the materiality of the object that make Don't Let Me Forget To Feed The Sharks a book to be purchased, admired, and read.