When a book is written as one long poem it is understandable to ask where the author thinks the reader might be able to take a breath. I got echoes of Ginsberg’s Howl, a book I think of as breathless and ignorant to the idea that readers deserve pause points to serve in digestion, early in Andrew Weatherhead’s $50,000. Yet thankfully, Weatherhead’s current search for meaning in an oft-confusing, money-driven world is many times more enjoyable than Ginsberg’s poetic rant. Not only does his this long, sweeping poem provide many signposts to stop at, it thrums with a conversational humanity loftier poetics shun to their demise.
For starters, Weatherhead makes obvious his own confusion when it comes to existence, immediately joining the reader in a search for life’s meaning. This humanizes Weatherhead, letting me commiserate with him as he gives me space to be human alongside his self-professed flawed-humanness. The act of reading $50,000 in some ways felt like participating in Office Space, if only the movie had just been one endless scene of two office pals spitballing hot takes and one-liners about the purpose of existence.
The element of office life that finds no purchase in this book is, however and thankfully, ennui. Energy crackles on every page. You get the idea Weatherhead could barely wait to get each new line out. But that propulsion never betrays the obvious care in Weatherhead’s lines. Certainly, you get the feeling of real craft and thought in every passage and page. He never over-extends himself, with the possible exception of the last page, meant to be a witty coda but which, to me, feels cheap, a near-betrayal of the whole project. The book would have done nicely without it.
A Poem Without an Answer
I appreciate the admission Weatherhead makes early, almost small enough to gloss over in the initial build-up. He writes, “But this isn’t a poem with an answer.” Then, as the title indicates, his next line centers money, its labyrinth-creating properties: “It’s about the fractal nature of wealth.”
Not long after he admits “our passion for living is not well understood.” I like that. He’s adept at creating these little pockets of commiseration to commune in throughout. I appreciate his admittance of disorientation. He’s willing to acknowledge the amount some of us enjoy life at times feels at-odds with how much we ought to enjoy life based on worldly circumstances. It’s a proto-nihilism couched in a gung-ho spirit that, while obtuse, is more or less my ideal pairing in a modern poet.
He also channels wildness from how the in-the-moment-ness of the poetry. It can feel like he’s randomly pulling ideas and phrases from a cultural encyclopedia, though he never obscures the strings of his control. The direction remains clear. Life is shown to be complicated, messy. It is easy to see ourselves in the mess, right alongside him. We are in it together. How can I not empathize with the irony and defeatism in writing a more than 100 page poem whose penultimate page ends by saying, “I wish I had something to say.”
I only wish it ended there instead of continuing on to page 109 where he recreates a screenshot of a Tinder match text exchange that attempts to visualize the themes of $50,000 in a fell swoop. I see what he’s trying to do. But I dislike it. Alas. I will gladly read the first 108 pages multiple times, reveling in how celebratory it can feel to read something written from a place of deep passion, sufferings and all.
$50,000 is published by Publishing Genius.