The Montreal Review of Books Appreciates Gabe Foreman's Wonky Taxonomies

Poetry Play Pen
By Bert Almon
The Montreal Review of Books
October 24 2011

Bert Almon of the Montreal Review of Books considers the combination of insight and whimsy at work in Gabe Foreman's taxonomic masterpiece, A Complete Encyclopedia of Different Types of People:

Gabe Foreman is even more playful than [Linda] Besner and [Joshua] Trotter. In his A Complete Encyclopedia of Different Types of People, he presents a series of portraits of human types in alphabetical order, from 'Accidents' to 'Zygotes.' But no collection of 'types of people' could ever be complete, as Gertrude Stein found in her interminable The Making of Americans. Some of Foreman’s poetic portraits are highly whimsical: 'Collage Dropouts' (with a cartoon featuring a school of fish) is printed en face with 'Colonels of Truth.' The most amusing feature of the book is the use of cross references: 'Buns in the Oven' simply reads 'See Zygotes' and 'Zygotes' says 'See Little Bundles of Joy.' 'Working Stiffs' says 'See Zombies,' and 'Zombies' reads 'See Working Stiffs.' A liberal sprinkling of cartoons, sketches, fill-in-the-blanks exercises, and questionnaires with yes/no boxes provides another level of joking, a visual one. Is there a serious dimension to all this jesting? Foreman shows elements of strangeness in such hackneyed terms as 'History Buffs,' 'Sticks in the Mud,' and 'Frequent Flyers.' The metaphors in our terms for types of people can be defamilarized by making them literal, as when a description of 'Tough Cookies' begins with a recipe for cookies. The epigraph to 'Old Flames' quotes Walter Lippmann: 'A great deal of confusion arises when people decline to classify themselves as we have classified them.' This immensely entertaining book declines classifications for us all.

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