God was showing me
the code through a prism.
I fractured the glass
on purpose because
I did not want to know.
From “Varieties of Religious Experience”
Winner of the Pushcart Prize for Poetry, prolific and multitalented author Melissa Broder offers excerpts from all four of her poetry collections in Superdoom: Selected Poems. Together, the poems function a bit like a greatest hits album, showcasing the breadth of style and distinct humor for which Broder is known. Organized by collection, readers have the opportunity to experience Broder’s evolution as a poet in real time.
The book opens with a new introduction from Broder which immediately establishes the poems as simultaneously personal and detached. She describes how she composed each of the four collections, in large part, while on public transit to and from work. After moving to Los Angeles, she was unable to compose poems during her commute, which ultimately resulted in a shift toward prose. Now, Broder admits, she finds it difficult to write poems and even struggles to recognize herself in Superdoom: Selected Poems.
“I hope you enjoy a few of these poems, once written by someone, who I’m told is me,” she writes in the final sentence of her introduction. This sentence helps contextualize the collection. While the author may not recognize herself in the poems, there is a clear desire to preserve this version of herself. That’s not to say that the poems Broder chooses from each collection are particularly nostalgic or always personal. Rather, they display Broder’s preoccupation with the human experience and offer a speaker who is sometimes inconsistent, often flawed and always honest.
Selections from When You Say One Thing But Mean Your Mother are most concerned with loss, first of the mother and then of a marriage. The speaker in the poems is direct and funny, using turns of phrase to comment on painfully fraught moments. In “Under the DM Tonight,” Broder writes
There are many medicines
for the taking
but just a few will take.
This sentence is simple and deafening, perfectly encapsulating the frustration of chronic illness and experimental treatments, the desperate attempt to continue living when the body becomes an enemy of itself.
Broder features many poems from her most recent collection, Last Sext, that present a speaker in the throes of existential crisis. The poems reject punctuation entirely, often leaning philosophical in their consideration of pain, the universe and their relationship with God. “Big Tide” puts the philosopher in direct contact with the natural world, where they admit
And when I finally saw the ocean
It murdered evil for me
You ask me to define evil
I don’t know I can’t
I can only say there are things that stand
In the way of other things
And the ocean murderers all of them
Ultimately, Superdoom: Selected Poems is an opportunity for a new group of readers to experience Broder’s wit and uncanny ability to ground the most difficult moments in equal parts humor and thoughtfulness. It would be a mistake to call these poems graceful, but there is a particular grace in curating a book of selected poems which preserves a version of the self the author has forgotten. Broder may not recognize herself in these pages, but I suspect most readers will see a little of themselves.