A Little Smaller Than the Final Quark (Bullshit Lit) by Carsen Pytell is full of refreshingly amusing poetry that captures the fallibility of human experience––and with witty titles. In “Eschatology,” Pytell writes, “We get old. That’s about it, though” (17). However true that may ring for humankind, it certainly doesn’t speak for these poems. Pytell’s work is timelessly cosmic with punk-pride, death, and human nature; each poem reckoning cataclysms like in “Alexander Nevskey” when he writes, “there’s always about to be / Chernobyls – always have been – no matter / the name of the catastrophe’s locale” (14).
In “Red Between Blue Lines,” Pytell tells us about a particularly sudden death that occurs after neglecting routine maintenance at a local ice arena the speaker’s friend operates. It can be particularly difficult to write about death (or the witnessing of it) with true sincerity, but Pytell has mastered it through a genuine voice that honors the reality of these situations. He leaves us with a hollow reminder not to bury our trauma, or at least to say the trauma won’t disappear after the event has passed, “It’s kinda like how I’m safe in saying I’m not the only one being / sanded and coated so that blood doesn’t keep showing itself / or at least that I don’t show that it shows itself. Right, doc?” (from “Red Between Blue Lines” p. 9).
The honest tone in A Little Smaller Than the Final Quark resounds in other poems as well; in “Why I call Pop-Punks Oxy-Morons” he finds that balance in frank tone again in noting some Minor Threat lyrics (from the song “Out of Step”) and name drops Ian Mackaye, the bands’ lead vocals. The poem follows this idea of hypocritical nature, “Yeah, uh-huh, yeah… Ian MacKaye does drink some dry wine now, / but – c’mon – don’t you deserve to do that after decades of teaching / people they don’t ‘need’ that shit” (12). The poem’s first line echoes that of the song in reference, “don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t fuck” and the singer’s lifestyle decisions. As it is in many of the poems in the book, the kicker is in the last few lines, “Tobacco does calm your nerves and most people do look stupid smoking / but obviously it works some kinda way his wine must. But don’t listen here… / I wrote this on my bathroom mirror after a long day, hot shower and a Roxy” (12). The speaker subverts the meaning onto himself; wherein one poem the speaker is saying “Love Me, Love Me, I’m a Poet” they’re also acknowledging their own fallibility (8).
Quarks are fundamental––foundational, so nothing is smaller than a quark, but after reading this book, I imagine you’ll find that maybe there is––it’s merely harder to imagine. These poems will urge you to think about those moments in life you forget about or turn your cheek against; those moments so small we won’t know how important they are until years later. Like those fly-through moments are worth acknowledging, A Little Smaller than the Final Quark is worth getting into.