John Michael reviews Loser Makes Good by Greg Gerding. (University of Hell Press)
I met Greg Gerding at a hipster coffee shop in Portland, Oregon. I was living on the streets at the time and was finding some songs and stories out there. Greg, as Editor and Publisher of University of Hell Press, was there to critique the work of a writing group I was a part of. Greg was different than most of the hipster poets in that he was easy to have a conversation with and, honestly, he exuded kindness. Hipster poets exude aloofness and, though they seemed to appreciate my writing, I found them almost impossible to talk to; lots of awkward silences and shoegazing.
I was introduced to Gerding as a writer through his first book, Loser Makes Good. The book is a selection of poetry and prose he collected in some notebooks throughout the year of 1994. A 22-year-old man fresh out of college. Gerding pursues women and drunkenness like many young men, but also meaning and self-understanding which most do not.
“I am trying to figure out the me of before versus the me of now. And I am sorting through how my being has changed, and my thought process has changed, and my love has changed,” he writes in “My Paradigm Shifted.” A 22-year-old with that level of self-awareness is dangerous indeed. Gerding understands the world is full of shit and he rails against this full-of-shitness at times, but because he is kind he can never dismiss it fully.
There is quite a bit of sex in Loser Makes Good. Both real encounters and fantasies are explored. If I did not know the male protagonist, I’m sure it would be quite arousing. Gerding is lonely, working in a mall mainly, because no one seems to understand him or laugh at his jokes. He has a keen sense of humor and I laughed at many stories, like when Gerding was having a conversation about Peace Frogs with a fundamentalist Christian. But I also found myself laughing later at stuff I had read earlier, the subtleness finally sinking in.
One story that touched me, but also made me laugh, has Gerding in bed with a new love. “You scare me,” she says. “Why? I’m harmless,” he answers. He could have easily said, “Why? I’m kind.” … which I presume was what was scaring her. “I don’t know, you scare me,” she continues. “You’re the one on top,” he responds.
Gerding is frustrated early in the book as he struggles to put words onto the page and wonders if he is worthy of the praise he is receiving at some of the poetry readings he participates in. “Don’t get me wrong, they are words I appreciate, but they are words I don’t feel worthy of being surrounded with because I write drunk, and I think they know I write drunk, because I write stuff about being drunk.” He wants them to stop talking and start buying his broke, mall-working self some beer.
Gerding has nothing to worry about. He is a man after his passion with insight and humor. 95 percent of people don’t do that and condemn those who do. He has guts. At one point he finds his notebook the next morning after a night of drunkenness and he has bitten a page in pure frustration. He has no memory of this and it pleases him greatly. His frustration seems to ebb after that and his voice takes on a dream-like quality.
There are more poems, less prose, toward the end of Loser Makes Good. They are romantic with some pathos. A man with love and intelligence in his heart and a love by his side, out and about in a world lacking romance and heart.