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Book Review: Bo Burnham “Egghead: Or, You Can’t Survive on Ideas Alone”

By Ehlayna NapolitanoNews Editor

Book Review: Bo Burnham’s “Egghead: Or, You Can’t Survive on Ideas Alone” Bo Burnham’s new poetry anthology, “Egghead: Or, You Can’t Survive on Ideas Alone,” attempts to strike a delicate balance between grown-up toilet humor and cutesy maturity. It asks you to sit through low-class humor and rewards you with teasingly brief glimpses of Burnham’s more affectionate, insightful side.

Reading Burnham’s short, witty passages is akin to reading the Facebook statuses of that one friend you had in high school whose inappropriateness you put up with because there were silver-lining moments that made it all worth it.

Already a seasoned comedian, the anthology’s author does not stray too far from his roots. There are traces of the traditional Burnham comedic strategy – to appeal to the audience’s basest sense of humor and, perhaps, to make comedy in spite of comedy itself. He demonstrates this best in his poems that break down the metaphorical “fourth wall” of poetry. In “Advice,” for instance, he writes, “If the poem you’re writing is silly and dumb, / make sure that it rhymes at the end. Bum.”

Like Burnham’s comedy, the anthology is remarkably self-aware in nature, as well as surprisingly in tune with human drives and desires. He cuts swiftly and minimally, using the plainest words to drive home a point. In “Big,” Burnham strikes at the poignancy of human interaction in four exceedingly simple lines, rendering them more effective in hitting their mark. “When I was little, / I killed ants with a magnifying glass. / And now I’m big. / And I worry I’m doing the same thing with you.” Multiple poems deal with the concepts of words and language, which is an interesting thematic choice for a poet to land on.

It is almost like a self-examination of the reasons for writing poetry, as well as a thought-provoking study in words and their power over a captive audience. Furthermore, Burnham speaks charmingly and whimsically (though often superficially) about love. Although they typically don’t delve too deep, the poems do reveal a talent with words and a grasp of human emotion that often does not (and usually cannot) appear in comedy of any sort. “The Letter,” perhaps one of Burnham’s more creatively romantic pieces, ends, “I hope it finds you as I found you. / Yours truly, / Yours, truly.”

Although Burnham isn’t doing anything particularly remarkable in terms of innovation of poetry, he is challenging conventional standards for what grown-up poetry can be and certainly demonstrates a knack for words.

With a bit of honing, he could perhaps more fully reveal his understanding of the human condition – something we only see in glimpses in this collection. These glimpses, however, are nothing if not heartfelt.

This anthology isn’t for poetry traditionalists. It appears to be actively working against traditional poetic themes and not in a dark, edgy way. It’s a lot more like a five-year-old’s sense of humor, attempting to make peace with the experience of the twenty-something it lives in.

It’s not traditional poetry in the structural sense either. In no way can the Shel Silverstein influence be understated (it’s at times painfully obvious whom the anthology is guided by). However, there is a sophisticated dichotomy in the way the book operates – alternating between the adorable and the inappropriate – that makes the “grown-up kid stuff” all worth it.

“Egghead” channels the traditional offensiveness of comedy (and it is, certainly, offensive much of the time), while simultaneously infusing moments of clarity that attempt to strike emotional chords in the reader. Although it is often unclear exactly what Burnham is attempting to create, he will likely make the reader feel something, which is a feat in itself.

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