Review: “I Am Not Famous Anymore: Poems after Shia LaBeouf”


I Am Not Famous Anymore: Poems after Shia LaBeouf, by Erin Dorney
Mason Jar Press, 2018
ISBN: 9780996103749

In her first collection, ​I Am Not Famous Anymore​, poet Erin Dorney revives media interview quotes of actor and performance artist Shia LaBeouf through the process of erasure: the act of omitting some words from a preexisting text and creating new work with what remains. Armed with metaphorical (or literal) whiteout, Dorney has thinned and rearranged LaBeouf’s words to create a series of polished poems.

While the collection is unified by the interview source material, each poem singularly reflects Dorney’s talent in using the erasure form. Each poem is strong enough to stand alone; the reader may forget that the content of the poems have a source. Dorney’s poems are relatively short in length and word count, and it’s clear she has chosen each word carefully. The negative space on the pages plays with the idea of celebrity that has faded, slipped from everyday view. Dorney rearranges and omits portions of LaBeouf’s interviews, finding a sub-voice beneath them.

Dorney’s poems feel like the stripped-down honesty hidden under celebrity self-promotion and out-of-context paparazzi quotes. She has crafted short but serious poems, including “SUDDENLY,” which hits hard despite its three brief lines:

I don’t know
if I want forever —
it changes every day.

Here, a sense of uncertainty about the future is universally relatable: a celebrity fearing their irrelevance, a college graduate applying for jobs, a couple discovering they’re expecting a child. I read “SUDDENLY” in Shia LaBeouf’s voice, a friend’s voice, my own.

Dorney includes the source for each poem’s words at the bottom of the page. The order of the interviews cited appears to be random; the sources themselves are simply a tool in the process. But their inclusion may serve to remind the reader that these words lived before, in another voice and a far different context. At times, I found myself curious about the original order of the words Dorney chose to keep: How much of her poems are her own word order? What, if any, are LaBeouf’s original turns of phrase? The erasure experience isn’t over when the reader finishes a poem. Instead, we are left wondering about Dorney’s personal experience with these media interviews. Does she speak her own truth through LaBeouf’s words, or does she encourage the reader to relate to the trimmings and rearrangements of a lost celebrity’s words? Did she sense a connection with Shia LaBeouf — or with the concept of him?

I Am Not Famous Anymore infuses relevance into the words of an unremarkable celebrity. Would you guess what LeBeouf is doing now? Do you care? Dorney cares about the words. She shows us that their power and depth change when they are reordered, condensed, and employed by a different voice.

Erin Dorney trims the non-poetic fat in Shia LaBeouf’s media interview statements, leaving the reader pleasantly full of lean — but meaty — sentiments to interpret, without the threat of a stomach ache. ​I Am Not Famous Anymore ​brings a fresh twist to media documentation, going a step further than publishing exactly what was said. This book will remind readers that anything and everything is poetry if a writer can be aware of its moment, can see it inside layers of media monotony. Shia LaBeouf should be proud of the beauty Erin Dorney has launched from his words and chosen to share with the world.