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Sometimes My Heart Pushes My Ribs

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Poetry. Ellen Kennedy's debut full-length poetry collection. "When I finished reading SOMETIMES MY HEART PUSHES MY RIBS I had to go to lunch with people in a restaurant with enormous beverages and misnamed sandwiches. I kept tapping my hand on the table and I didn't listen to anything anybody said. All I wanted to do was go home to read and write the kind of poetry Ellen Kennedy writes, declarative and nervous and wild and free. This is the sort of thing you want. This is the sort of book you should buy and you should buy it now instead of having lunch with those `friends'"--Daniel Handler. Ellen Kennedy was born in 1989 and lives in Boston.

64 pages, Paperback

First published March 20, 2009

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Ellen Kennedy

17 books53 followers

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5 stars
118 (32%)
4 stars
121 (33%)
3 stars
79 (21%)
2 stars
28 (7%)
1 star
14 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 40 reviews
Profile Image for M.F. Soriano.
Author 14 books7 followers
March 10, 2010
Because I feel that book reviews should focus on the book being reviewed, I'm going to try not to write very much about Muumuu House (the publishing company behind this book) or Tao Lin (the founder of Muumuu House). Having said that, I must admit that writing about SOMETIMES MY HEART PUSHES MY RIBS without focusing on Muumuu House or Tao Lin seems like a daunting task for two reasons: first of all, the significance of this book being Muumuu House's first release outweighs, in my opinion, the significance of the book itself; and secondly, the writing that appears in SOMETIMES MY HEART PUSHES MY RIBS often feels thoroughly colonized by, or blatantly derivative of, Tao Lin's own style.

If you're wondering who Tao Lin is, I encourage you to go to his blog and read some of what appears there. For the purpose of this review, all you really need to know is that I--the person writing this review--consider Tao Lin a significant author because I think he's developed an original voice that has the capacity to "speak" for a population (that population being Gen Y hipsters). Muumuu House's significance, in my own biased mind, reflects Tao Lin's significance because he's running it and because it could possibly become a sort of venue for a vanguard group in a new literary movement, a movement comprised of Gen Y hipsters who write about social-awkwardness and loneliness in a plain-spoken, nearly autistic tone that further emphasizes their themes of social-awkwardness and loneliness. Unfortunately, in the case of SOMETIMES MY HEART PUSHES MY RIBS, it's hard to tell if Ellen Kennedy really has a voice of her own to add to that group, or if she's just a 2nd rate Tao Lin.

Probably the best way to further flesh out the above ideas, and also to get started on an actual review of the book itself, is to give you a sample of Kennedy's writing. Here's a paragraph from the first piece in the book, titled "Eoody Mobby":

Woody Allen lies down on the bed. Ned Vizzini lies down next to Woody Allen. Woody Allen's room has white walls. There aren't any posters or pictures hung on the wall. Woody Allen kisses Ned Vizzini's mouth. Ned Vizzini pushes his tongue into Woody Allen's mouth and licks Woody Allen's tongue. Ned Vizzini licks Woody Allen's teeth. Woody Allen pushes his hand against Ned Vizzini's crotch. Ned Vizzini does the same. Ned Vizzini unbuttons Woody Allen's dress while Woody Allen touches Ned Vizzini's face and looks at his eyes and his nose. Ned Vizzini takes off Woody Allen's underwear with his foot and then takes off his pants. Woody Allen unbuttons Ned Vizzini's shirt and touches his chest. Ned Vizzini has sex with Woody Allen. They make noises but are quieter than most couples Woody Allen thinks. Woody Allen is sometimes louder than Ned Vizzini.

Immediately obvious is Kennedy's conspicuous inclusion of cult-status celebrities (Tao Lin does the same in his works; his forthcoming novel, for example, is titled RICHARD YATES). In this instance the celebrities are represented only by name--the characters in the piece are not intended to be Woody Allen and Ned Vizzini; the names are used only as pseudonyms. In the last piece in the book Kennedy writes about Norm Macdonald, and the celebrity himself serves as the actual character. In both cases the use of celebrity names adds an element of absurdity (why would Woody Allen be wearing a blue dress, kissing Ned Vizzini's mouth?). This element of absurdity is also cultivated in other ways: random desires (like Ned Vizzini's desire for a "small yellow apple" later in the story), bizarre thoughts (like Woody Allen's feeling of being "safe like a walnut" that a "squirrel buries [...:] but not too deep in the soil so the possibility of escaping to avoid being buried alive is still there."), and out-of-the-blue occurrences (like a bear headbutting the author's window in the poem "I Want to Write a Poem With You"--and doesn't Tao Lin feature out-of-the-blue bears in some of his own works, like EEEEE EEE EEEE?).

Also apparent in the above passage is the awkward, nearly autistic (in its impaired emotional comprehension) tone Kennedy employs, which is in itself reminiscent of Tao Lin. And Kennedy uses a lot of Tao Lin techniques to provoke that awkward tone. She almost never uses pronouns, instead repeatedly referring to characters by their full names (Woody Allen, Ned Vizzini--rarely "him" or "her" or even just "Woody"). She diverts the readers attention away from what most people would focus on (as above, when she sets up the sex scene between Woody Allen and Ned Vizzini, and then detours into a sentence describing Woody's blank walls when what we're expecting is a focus on the characters' actions). She describes things in a plain-spoken way that feels especially incongruent with generally emotional moments (such as sex-scenes) and emotional states (especially loneliness and depression--she uses Tao Lin terms like "neutral facial expression" for that sort of stuff). She also describes things so literally that what we think is familiar (a kiss) feels foreign ("Ned Vizzini licks Woody Allen's teeth.")

It's true that this awkward tone works well in its illumination of isolated, socially-awkward individuals. Kennedy introduces us to people who are more apt to stand in each others' rooms and stare at things than engage in conversation, people for whom even intimate moments of connection with others (like sex) feel strange and uncomfortable, people who are more likely to think about shallowly buried walnuts than to tell each other how they feel. She does a good job of actualizing that mindset. But the flipside of her intimacy with this "lack of human intimacy" is a shallowness of characterization. The only personality that approaches roundness is that isolated, socially awkward individual that serves as the protagonist in every story. When another character is given any mind-time, they come across as nearly identical to that protagonist. Any distinctions in lesser characters are shallow and limited--a cranky mother, a less-socially-awkward friend. Not exactly a rich palette.

The same tones that come across in the three prose pieces in the book are also apparent in the poetry, but where the prose has elements of plot, the poetry concerns itself more with craft. Kennedy's poetry isn't much like the lyrical, sound-oriented poetry I've reviewed recently (like HALF LIFE OF MEMORY, by Lizz Huerta)--it's closer to the other end of the spectrum, and a lot of the sentences in the poems would probably feel pretty at home in prose (no conspicuous meters, rhythms, alliteration or other sound play to make them harder to blend in to a story). But it's distinct from her fiction because of its use of line breaks, its greater variety of sentence types, and (perhaps most importantly) its occasional moments in which the socially-awkward, emotionally autistic tone (which feels so Tao Lin-like) gives way to another voice.

Those first two distinctions (line breaks and sentence types) are well illustrated in Kennedy's poem "I Want to Write a Poem With You". Here's the first half:

I cried three times today

One time I was with a group of people and one of the people was so quiet and sad that when I went home I cried in bed

I tapped my fingers on my pillow and pretended that a stampede of wild hamsters was coming to destroy everything I own

A bear headbutted my window and its head broke through and I went in the kitchen and got antiseptic and went to the bear with the antiseptic and the bear bit my hand and I went back to my bed and stared at the bear

I used my bloody hand to draw a picture of a salmon on my sheets to attract the bear but my tears ruined the picture and the lines ran together and then the bear lost interest and walked away and then my cry elevated to a more sob-like heaving

The first sentence is a simple, short, declarative sentence that stands on its own line. Each sentence from there on also exists as a separate stanza, and each stanza grows in length and pace and pressure, using "and" to tie together more and more clauses. By the end the pace runs along with an effect reminiscent of a breathless child telling some sort of story, and then it comes to an abrupt stop, jamming two sentences together on one line. It's a fun little trick.

In other poems Kennedy uses line breaks in other ways, sometimes stretching one sentence out over several lines. You can see it here in the first half of her poem "Poem":

I'm violently stuffing
the void in my life
with cute toys
from fifty-cent machines

The shorter lines create an emphasis on the accented syllables (I'm VI-lently STUFF-ing/the VOID in my LIFE) which adds a ponderous weight and violence to the words, which lends an emotional quality to the poem that makes it stand out from a lot of the rest of the book. Instead of the declarative, unpassionate tone (which sounds so much like Tao Lin) that Kennedy uses to talk ironically about depression and hopelessness, this poem actually feels angry and hopeless. There are a few other poems in the book which also take on this distinctly emotional voice (though the emotions aren't usually as fierce as what we see here--"How to Hold a Person" feels more wistful; another piece, also titled "Poem," touches on vulnerability as it relates to body images, and it really does feel vulnerable), and these are the poems that interested me most in the book. I'm not sure if this more emotionally poignant perspective comes from a time before she encountered, and was so influenced by, Tao Lin, or if these poems are the result of her developing craft, her exploration of new terrain that can be more uniquely her own. My hope is, of course, that the latter is the case.
Profile Image for hanna.
3 reviews
August 31, 2009
This book is not what I would call poems - something more along the lines of pointless ramblings. If I wanted to read something like this I could have easily browsed the internet for a livejournal of a fifteen-seventeen year old hipster recording their pointless thoughts. This book was uninteresting and lacked any depth that I feel poems should usually contain. I would have given it three stars if the poems were beautiful ramblings, but these fell far from that even.

After browsing some other e-books by Ellen Kennedy and stuff from Muumuu House, I can happily say that I won't ever read anything by Tao Lin or any of his hipster followers again.
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 118 books157k followers
March 4, 2009
There are brilliant moments in this book, and the desperate pace of many of the pieces is intriguing. At the same time, some of the pieces read like insane ramblings, but not in a good way. Its like the author is trying way too hard to be edgy and out there and different but only ends up writing more of the same of that writing that seems to be pervasive these days--all style no substance.
Profile Image for Vicky.
463 reviews
January 11, 2013
I bought this book so that I can have a copy of "Jean Rhys", one of my favorite poems. There were other good pieces in here, too. The shit poem was funny. The boredom and sadness is true. A couple of the images in "Brighter and Clearer" are great—

After I have an orgasm my body feels like a sombrero-shaped galaxy slowly expanding in the eyepiece of a 4th grader's telescope


After I make you feel indifferent towards me my heart turns into a small desert hamster running very quickly on an exercise wheel and then tripping and then spinning around in distress until the wheel stops and the hamster can get up and try running again, but in a more conscious and concerned way
Profile Image for Jeffrey.
Author 213 books1,316 followers
July 12, 2009
The first book published by writer Tao Lin's MuuMuu House, Kennedy's collection of poetry starts off with a funny piece that stretches the limits of prose poetry. She's at her best with poems like 'How To Hold A Person' and 'I Made the Man at the Grocery Store Nervous,' wrapping up emotions inside seemingly matter of fact constructions of words. There's sincerity behind the poems that reigns in the humor just the right amount.
Profile Image for Marcus.
Author 19 books36 followers
May 26, 2020
There is a sexy short story in three parts that kicks off the collection. The two main characters are Woody Allen and Ned Vizzini. I had to look up Ned Vizzini. I guess he writes about anti-depressants. And young adult books too. Ned looks young and sexy from the pictures and makes me feel better after medications.

We are all know what Woody looks like. Have you seen him recently?

There is heart in this collection. Heart everywhere. The heart is flat/deadpan and it moves me. A lot.

I mean, sure it may be an "alt lit" or stylistic twitch. This flattened style. But not only.There were others before Alt Lit that have done it well. And there others after "alt lit" that will do it well. This is contemporary absurdism. Absurdism never dies because well . . life is fuckin absurd.

And like anything when it's done well it's done well. Sam Pink does it bloody well. Tao Lin does it bloody well. And this writer Ellen Kennedy does it bloody well too. There are others. But these three are my fav so-called young "alt lit" writers right now.

But forget the label alt lit. It may be a problem if you have pre-conceived notions of alt lit (e.g. drugs and narcissism). Like some of the great writing of the beats, the work itself can get overshadowed by the hype and cultural youth marketing machine (see Vice or American Apparel or Urban Outfitters or Lower East Side NY or Brick Lane in east London or or or or). Good shit is good shit. And this is good shit. There are flash fictions, short stories, and poems and they all just work. Just fit. And they move me, A LOT!



That's the main thing I want from any art form: to feel AWAKE! AWARE! I don't care about showing off academic discourse or MFA writing workshop crafts (unless that makes you feel more alive and awake to the world RIGHT NOW)

I will read it again. Because I like it. I like it a lot.

There are some of the familiar tropes/metaphors/images of Tao Lin's work (well hamsters in particular) but this didn't bother me. It is just as much not Tao Lin. But if you like Tao Lin and Sam Pink's work you are going to like Ellen Kennedy's work too. Some slightly older generation (mine) that fits well into this type of writing: Matthew Rohrer and Mike Topp (there are others too). So if you like the work of those fellas you probably will like this book.

If you don't know the work of Tao Lin or Sam Pink or Matthew Rohrer or Lydia Davis or Camus or Mike Topp, well it doesn't matter. You can start here. Or end here. It's all good!
22 reviews
September 20, 2011
Quite a playful, experimental poet, Ellen Kennedy personalizes each piece in this collection with a unique candor and honesty that I think many writers can learn from. Having created the most original young adult poetry I've read, Kennedy does not hold back from capturing the odd qualities of everyday life with a lens of nonchalant maturing, an interesting subject that should be explored more often.
Profile Image for Kevin.
Author 33 books35.4k followers
March 27, 2009
There are definitely some 5-star moments in this little book, especially the poems, which are often revealing, funny, and playful. There are other times when the writing is just too messy (or weirdly robotic and flat) to enjoy (especially the stories). But if she keeps developing her own voice and style, she'll certainly offer greater books in the future.
Profile Image for Holly Wood.
Author 6 books158 followers
April 10, 2012
every time i try to read poetry
i'm reminded of why
all my stupid thoughts
especially while shitting
aren't really that interesting
to anyone at all
poetry probably needs
to be something
that isn't writing about celebrities
while on the toilet
in jerky line breaks
Profile Image for Kathleen.
Author 33 books1,154 followers
April 28, 2009
Reviewing it for an upcoming issue of Octopus.
Profile Image for Darren C.
31 reviews1 follower
September 12, 2010
(a line i liked)

"After I have an orgasm my body feels like a sombrero-shaped galaxy slowly expanding in the eyepiece of a 4th grader's telescope"
Profile Image for Jason.
22 reviews27 followers
April 21, 2009
I've interviewed Sam Pink, I've exchanged several e-mails with Sam Pink, I've read his stories on-line, I have read his blog and I have even read marveled at his artwork, yet as I read through his debut collection, I don't know if I know anything more about Mr. Pink then when I started. Much of his book is written in first person, but I find myself asking what person. At first glance this is a series of surface exchanges, mundane encounters filtered through a slightly damaged mind, but as the brief stories begin to build certain images repeat and develop. However, you don't know if these images are a character or the real man behind the persona.

The "I" that fills the 168 pages of Clone is lonely, angry, confused, and experiencing life at a pace and in a location that he has not chosen. You feel as though you are reading a diary or somehow ready every thought of this troubled person. Yet, you are strangely comforted by an odd sense of humor and moments so awkward that they make you smile and look around the room to see if anyone may be watching. Despite all of that you still don't know if this "I"is the writer or just a reoccurring figure in these puzzling poems.

"I AM GOING TO CLONE MYSELF THEN KILL THE CLONE AND EAT IT" was published by Barry Graham and was the first book on his Paper Hero Press imprint. It is extremely well crafted and an interesting look at the work and world of one of the most secretive writers in independent lit.

Profile Image for Christine.
23 reviews11 followers
October 5, 2012
Quite a playful, experimental poet, Ellen Kennedy personalizes each piece in this collection with a unique candor and honesty that I think many writers can learn from. Having created the most original young adult poetry I've read, Kennedy does not hold back from capturing the odd qualities of everyday life with a lens of nonchalant maturing, an interesting subject that should be explored more often.
Profile Image for Fabian.
3 reviews2 followers
August 31, 2009
This is the worst book I've ever read, it only took me about 10 minutes to read the damned thing but even then I still feel it was a waste of my time. These "poems" offer nothing that I would call intriguing and they definitely lack substance. I hope this style of writing dies out, quick. I feel generous even rating this book 1 star. At all costs AVOID this over-hyped pretentious garbage.
Profile Image for Jeff Hoiland.
62 reviews15 followers
January 17, 2013
I keep thinking "wonderful" when I think about how I would review this book to someone

I'm trying to think of other things to say but kinda just keep coming back to or repeating the word "wonderful" in my head, like not thinking about the word but just saying it in my head...

I liked this book.
Profile Image for Parker.
126 reviews12 followers
March 25, 2013
You know that embarrassing pretentious angsty 14 year old bullshit we all used to write in the back of our notebooks in study hall? Well, it's 2013 now and all that idiotic nonsense is entitled to be on blogs or, sadly, in books.

Wanna spend 45 minutes reading juvenile, asinine ramblings about the smells of piss or what kind of poops you have when you eat pizza? Ellen Kennedy's for you.
365 reviews30 followers
September 6, 2009
A quirkly, at times inconsistent work of postmodern poetry. Some of the pieces are exceptionally brilliant, and others fall flat. Still, a very exciting young poet and I look forward to her future work.
Profile Image for Andy L.
23 reviews2 followers
August 17, 2014
Ellen Kennedy writes funny little absurdities and calls them 'poems.'
Some are cute and others are very non-sensical and seem forced.
Read it in like an hour.
For the most park this book was pretty boring...
Profile Image for Ben Bush.
Author 4 books41 followers
January 27, 2014
The copy of this that I got from Mellow Pages had some pretty intense notes in it and some ballpointed illustrations of different lines. Also, a landscape picture of the NJ turnpike that made me think it had been read on a bus ride.
Profile Image for Zach.
Author 6 books92 followers
March 24, 2011
"Shit Poem" is the most awful and wonderful thing I have ever read.
Profile Image for Georgiana.
9 reviews1 follower
February 15, 2012
I have increased my rating for it since I realized that it was published before "Richard Yates" (the novel), in which case I give Ellen Kennedy points for originality.
Profile Image for Andrew.
Author 3 books4 followers
February 8, 2013
I really enjoyed this collection, and I find myself rereading many of the poems. The short story "Probably Going to Die Alone" is my favorite. I hope Ellen Kennedy publishes new writing soon.
Profile Image for Jack Rousseau.
195 reviews3 followers
January 20, 2022
Jean Rhys
By Ellen Kennedy

I'm preparing myself for an extended period of loneliness
That will begin very soon I think
I've illegally downloaded two new depressing songs
I've placed a copy of Good Morning, Midnight under my pillow for easy reference
I've printed out the tablature for every Morrissey song I know so I can sing them to myself
Alone in my room
Just a few things are needed really
To make me calm
While I figure out a simple, clean, and effective way to kill myself,
With minimal stress for the person who has to find and dispose of my body
But I'll probably never think of a way
Because I'll probably never kill myself
I'll just lie in my bed suffocating myself with my pillows
While listening to the four songs you said were your favorite
And maybe burn myself a little with the iron
On special occasions
And the next time I'm in a subway station,
I'll stand a little further on the yellow line
Or maybe the next I'm at your apartment
I'll try a little harder

Ellen Kennedy, "Jean Rhys" from Sometimes My Heart Pushes My Ribs. Copyright © 2009 by Ellen Kennedy. Reprinted by permission of Muumuu House.
Profile Image for Chris.
Author 2 books20 followers
May 23, 2017
Fine, but uneven. It has a couple of short prose pieces that are fun, and some smart poems, and then some sort of silly or doofy pieces that could probably have been left out without hurting the overall book. It's okay, but not on the high end of things.
Profile Image for Kelson.
2 reviews
June 29, 2017

I used to love this type of prose. Now I’m probably too old for it. Doesn’t feel quite the same
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