"Rabbits" Review By Nicholas Michael Ravinkar - Editor/publisher of Paper Knives
Animal, Vegetable, Magical: The Curious Case of Jimmy Broccoli’s "Rabbits" and a Close Reading of “Protection”
Original article: <a>https://paperknives.substack.com/.../animal-vegetable...</a> Paper Knives: <a>https://paperknives.substack.com/</a>
Nicholas Michael Ravnikar: <a>https://substack.com/.../19881257-nicholas-michael-ravnikar</a> ____
by Jimmy Broccoli
My best friend, Christopher, was my rabbit friend – and a fox took him away from me
A fox took him away from me A fox took him away from me
And I don’t know how to move on –
The grief …
And I don’t know how to move on – perhaps, I’ll carry with me a shotgun Because this can’t happen again – I won’t allow it
I can’t lose anyone else –
A fox took him away from me A fox took him away from me
A shotgun in my hands
Jimmy Broccoli’s Rabbits is something of a hybrid book that often leaps between the prose of stories or lyrical essays and lines verse of poems that move — often with an autobiographical overtone and always with vulnerability — between tenderness, grief and humor — with its honesty complicated by the curious Broccoli pseudonym. Jimmy Broccoli’s “Rabbits".
Disclosure: Broccoli included my own work in anthology entitled Encore and featured a poem of mine appeared on the Jimmy Broccoli Facebook page, where he’s incredibly active, engaged and supportive of other writers, as a member of multiple Facebook groups as well as by organizing a group of his own, We, the Carnivalesque, of which I am also a member. We, the Carnivalesque. ____
A Little Taste of Broccoli
When I first learned of him on Facebook, I thought Jimmy Broccoli had an unbelievable surname, but I assumed he was simply of Italian descent. Even after getting to know him virtually online, he arouses a sense of paradox: he is both a publicly accessible and outgoing enigma as well as a friendly hero in contemporary indie poetry.
I say hero and enigma in part because Jimmy Broccoli is, from what I have pieced together in the short time I’ve known him virtually, a self-acknowledged project of an as-yet-unnamed Library Branch manager working under this vegetable alter ego.
One poem I remember him posting over 2022 refers obliquely to how he came to assume the mantle of Jimmy Broccoli, though after scouring his Facebook wall, I could not find it.
His heroics also extend to the social support he lends to other writers and creatives, as well as the organizations to which he donates proceeds of his anthology project sales to Pets Are Loving Support of Georgia, an organization that provides care for the pets of animals living with people who have terminal illnesses. Pets Are Loving Support of Georgia.
In addition to sometimes surreal-sometimes gritty realist meditations on social circumstances, he frequently posts poems that he calls mostly true accounts of personal experiences or reminiscences of friends he’s lost. In that sense, despite his alter ego, he remains an accessible writer somewhat in the Confessional tradition of Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton and WD Snodgrass. Confessional Poets.
At the same time, his formal tendencies echo the very different poles in American Romanticism and Early Modernism of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, exploring both long, strophic verses that extend across the page for multiple lines, occasionally in paragraph form and usually with dashes employed to signify pauses in the measure. Emily Dickinson. ____
An Analysis of “Protection”
Placed near the middle of the book, “Protection,” provides a centerpiece for unpacking the entirety of Rabbits.
The piece begins — and it’s not the only poem in the collection to do this — with an italicized note to watch a video by Keaton Henson’s Small Hands. A creative array of puppet animals — rabbits, snails, owls and frogs — snuggle and romp in twos until their various predators emerge, and kill half of the pair. All of this serves as an allegory to underscore the lyrics to Henson’s song, which meditate on various memories of an unnamed absent loved one.
In the poem that follows, Broccoli implicitly references elements of the song to situate a narrative about the speaker’s “best friend, Christopher” who “was my rabbit friend” until “a fox took him away from me.”
Just as in the video, the pairing of personified animals makes them interchangeable metaphors for any sort of relationship grounded in love and care, and the predator mentioned looms large as a figure for loss and death.
The repetitive structure throughout the poem provides an architecture of grief. Twice we read the line “And I don’t know how to move on.” The pattern of the last two stanzas — one a couplet and one a single line — carry all the dark dimensions and resonance of the deep mournful notes of the blues.
“A fox took him away from me,” continues the allegory of Death as a fox. The final line, though — “A shotgun in my hands” — situates the speaker as also capable of violence, possessing a retributive instinct to kill that which has killed as the only conceivable way of moving on.
And yet, while one can shoot a fox, one cannot kill death itself. Losing loss remains an impossibility for us, and so we are left with the instruments by which we yearn to rid ourselves of the pain of loss — namely, the writing itself. In some sense, I would argue, the writing itself becomes a shotgun. ____
Shifting My Aim to Rabbits
Thus my insistence that this poem in particular gives us a straight shot into the most intimate parts of this book. The first line of the poem in fact provides a context for understanding the title of the book, where “rabbit friend” becomes a signal to stand in for everything and everyone who is loved or who is loveable.
Indeed, Broccoli’s back jacket copy reads: “I am a rabbit; you are a rabbit — we are all rabbits,” while simultaneously advising the reader to take along a flashlight because “[i]t gets dark early here.” Insofar as the title of the book becomes a reference for the poetic stories within. In that sense, the poems are both rabbits and shotguns.
This collection of what Broccoli calls “poetic storytelling” unearths the love in loss and unpacks exactly why loss hurts. In doing so, he points to a tunnel beneath the suffering — not free from it but not quite as amplified — a way through.
Likewise, there’s an ongoing return to the aesthetics of horror as a saving grace. The mask that appears on the cover of Rabbits echoes the rabbit figure of the 2001 film Donnie Darko, which Broccoli has cited in online conversations as an influence.
Throughout the book there are three pieces that refer to the werewolf transformation, with the interestingly arranged “Lycanthropy I,” “Lycanthropy: The Prequel,” “Lycanthropy Part II (The Third Installment) and “Lycanthropy Part III; November 3rd, 2013.” His dog, Lycan, figures into these poems heavily, as well as into the arc of the entire book.
Additionally, there’s also an overt reference to vampirism in “Ugliness, Vampirism & Modeling.” But in each instance, the reference to horror masks the human experience of hurt. And yet like an inversion of the humorous and lighthearted Jimmy Broccoli moniker who writes such gripping and viscerally honest suffering, Rabbits hides more than a few instances of hilarity, often tucked into its titles. In addition to his playful organization of the “Lycanthropy” cycle, witness “My Anis (Because I can’t Spell),” which discusses that perennially funny topic of a disputed joke: the itchy butthole.
It does more than just satisfy itself with juvenile humor … though it nonetheless recognizes the humor in the juvenile, which much stodgier academic and high-brow poetry eschews with an upturned nose.
While it self-reflexively critiques its own topic as unfit for poetry, the poem also uses a second-hand tennis racket given to the speaker as an ironic and iconic metaphor for the poem itself — which coincidentally (even if unintentionally) alludes to Frost’s famous comment about free verse being like playing tennis without a net.
The book itself is playfully divided into sections titled “Frog,” “Unicorn,” “Corn” and “Kangaroo,” making this a book of metamorphoses — transformations from one form of being to another. In much the same manner, Broccoli often shifts within poems between different perceptions or indeed narratives of reality.
Take for example, “I Was Born in the Year of the Rat.” In the midst of discussing a rabbit named Oscar as his spirit animal, Broccoli has a vision of himself switching places with the caged rabbit before a tender, erotic description of an imagined “handsome man.” Then he uses the line, “My close friends tell me I should make hats for a living,” to transition into and out of revealing that the handsome man was the murder victim of a hate crime twenty-five years prior, before concluding with a return to Oscar.
In part this leaves the reader encaged (much like the speaker) within the poem, to confront their own dissociation in the process, going back to re-read passages to make sense of what’s happened. Yet in doing so, he never pulls the reader out of the poem, but rather transfixes them within it. The effect is masterfully disorienting.
Throughout, Broccoli addresses questions many of his readers can identify with: self-acceptance, mental health, alcoholism and addiction, anorexia and masculinity. The ironically placed next-to-penultimate poem in the book, titled “Enough,” provides a somber and vulnerable account of the personal struggle to feel worthy. This is underscored by the conversation and internal monologue the narrator has with his psychiatrist in which he refuses to accept the psychiatrist’s repeated statements that Lycan is dead.
Jimmy Broccoli’s latest solo self-published and independently marketed book, Rabbits, bears a remarkable relationship to what I’m tempted to call the man himself. Rabbits is well worth the cost of admission.
This book is filled with poems that provide an ongoing and inexhaustible source of profound insight into the cathartic power of writing, as well as the puzzles of human psychology of grief. It shifts from surreal to autobiographical modes, interspersing lyric and narrative dimensions as it moves through themes of loss, intimacy, and mental health. In this sophomore effort follow-up to his first book, Damaged, Broccoli extremely self-aware work that pushes boundaries of form and content in mainstream self-published writing in exciting ways. Jimmy Broccoli’s “Damaged”.
© 2023 Nicholas Michael Ravnikar
Image: The cover of "Rabbits" - imagined by Jimmy Broccoli and created (it is a physical mask - not a digital creation) by Briana Botsford of Bots Media.