‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ author publishes 3 poetry books after contest


Benjamin Wallin | the ticker

Benjamin Wallin

Daniel Handler, popularly known by the pen name Lemony Snicket, published three new books, but they are not part of A Series of Unfortunate Events — his popular children’s book series — nor did he write them.

On Dec. 15, 2016, the author announced a contest to be published by Per Diem Press, an imprint he invented for the very purpose of publishing one book.

Handler had been visiting the set of Netflix’s Unfortunate adaptation — now officially complete after turning 13 books into three seasons — when he came up with an idea.

Every day while visiting the set, Handler wrote, “I am given a small handful of American dollars – a ‘per diem’ designed to cover my expenses. I don’t seem to have any expenses – I’m on the set all day long – and in Canada, this American cash seems particularly silly, so it’s remained unspent.”

Handler decided to use his “somewhat substantial amount of money,” collected over days of shooting, to publish one author’s collection of poetry.

He then changed his mind and published three selections: jurassic desire by Rohan Chhetri, “fish walking” & other bedtime stories for my wife by Arisa White and first one thing, then another by Elizabeth Clark Wessel, each of them poetry chapbooks — small, simply bound and 12-16 pages long.

Wessel’s language plays around with the sense of momentum, barreling ahead, then stopping to consider small details. Nowhere is this more apparent than in her first poem, “carol and shirley,” where she writes, “almost every day Carol visits Shirley or Shirley visits Carol / when Shirley is sick Carol visits Shirley when Carol is sick / Shirley visits Carol These are the people that have died in car wrecks the four teenagers, the one teenager, the toddler / who took his trycicle onto the highway survived but then died / of a heart attack…”

Her focus seems to be on adding details as they pop into the mind mid thought process. first one thing, then the other has notably scarce punctuation, using line breaks and capitalization to indicate meter.

Certainly poems like “1991” and “anecdote” use this style to indicate the youthful perspective of their narrators, but Wessel’s language can be jarring or wearisome, beginning in a beautiful idea, then shifting elsewhere at a whim.

White, in “fish walking” & other bedtime stories for my wife, has a more consistent tone throughout her poems. Her words are less clear in meaning, but that is not to the detriment of her work.

Other than in “unhatched” and “beams a smile so evergreen,” the opening and closing poems, respectively, White does not tell clear narratives. She instead creates sensations through verse, evoking a specific place or emotional state with collections of words and ideas.

White’s language is a pleasure all on its own and incomplete ideas beget wonderful uses of language in her work. In “woman of egrets,” White writes the phrase, “Vaulting into sky, grand and / sometimes arabesque, our hair is the last thing to fall to our shoulders—suspended in feral love, it will root on a poplar’s bark / and know your silence inside out.”

In the chapbook’s final poem, White writes, “Her guard has a forest of feeling and can’t decide on the tree— / beams a smile so evergreen.” “fish walking,” offers the enjoyment of letting the language wash over the reader, regardless of whether the meaning is clear.

Chhetri’s jurassic desire is the most prose-like of the three selections, but also the most tragic. The title comes from a line in his poem “toward some dark,” where Chhetri depicts, “The bleeding child who supposedly asked, / Excuse me sirs, is your Lord counting / all unrequited airstrikes? Or / is His jurassic desire our termination to be.

Chhetri’s work is raw, political and moving, a testament to the heft that can be carried by a few pieces of paper, stapled within a piece of cardstock.

Per Diem Press chapbooks are sold in Brooklyn at Books Are Magic, Greenlight Bookstore or Berl’s Poetry Shop.