Review: “I Am Not Famous Anymore”


I Am Not Famous Anymore, 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 pre-existing text and creating new work with the remaining words. Armed with metaphorical (or literal) whiteout, Dorney 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 with the erasure form. Each poem is strong enough to stand alone; the reader may forget the content of the poems have a source. Her poems are relatively short in length and word count, and it’s clear she chose each word carefully. The negative space on the pages, due to poem sizes, plays with the idea of a forgotten celebrity fading to the background, only their words remaining. Dorney rearranges and omits portions of Shia LaBeouf’s interviews, creating her own works through his words. If great artists do in fact steal, Dorney has found the writer equivalence.

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

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

In this poem, the 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. However, their inclusion may serve to remind the reader that these words lived first in the quotes of less eloquent Shia LaBeouf. At times I found myself curious as to the original order of the words Dorney chose to keep: How much of Dorney’s 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 the erasure of LaBeouf’s media interviews. Does she speak her own truth through LaBeouf’s words, or does Dorney 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 hope to inspire one through her poems?

I Am Not Famous Anymore creates relevance in the words of a currently unremarkable celebrity. Would you guess what LeBeouf is doing now? Do you care? Dorney cares about the words. She shows us that the power and depth of words change when they are reordered, condensed, and used 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 — words 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 catch the moment and jot it down, or see it in the layers of media interview monotony. Shia LaBeouf should be proud of the beauty Erin Dorney launched from his words and chose to share with the world.