A Review of Jade Sylvan’s Kissing Oscar Wilde
By Ashley Paul
Kissing Oscar Wilde by Jade Sylvan is a collection of essays that will cause readers to lose their breath in wide-eyed expression. in particular because of Sylvan’s excellent use of tongue-in-cheek writing within each piece in this collection.
The essays in Kissing Oscar Wilde detail Sylvan’s life after college and the reading of her written work at various clubs and cafés across Europe. The essays create a visual of crashing couches at the home of new friends along with the progression of Sylvan as an artist. What is the allure of artists leaving the Midwest? A question most curious because of Sylvan’s Midwestern roots and inspiration to travel the world to immerse herself in what is being offered. A question also answered in her search to attain creative ability.
Whether delivered in the form of poetry, play, or prose, each essay is well written and showcases Slyvan’s unique voice. The poems are a stream of consciousness pulled deep from her mind. She does not have an airy approach to life and is more of artistic, experimental, thrill-seeker alongside friends Caleb and Thade, who are integral parts of each essay.
In the prose piece, “We’ll Always Have Paris,” contemporary meets modern. Internet. Nicholas Chauvin. Casablanca. Patti Smith. In the piece, Sylvan talks of her need to leave the Midwest and her conservative parents who said she was “confusingly artistic at the best of times and embarrassingly perverse at the worst.” She would sit with Caleb under a graffitied bridge and talk about their fears and every artist’s doom: having to work a 9-5. It was there, under the bridge, that she gained the desire to visit “different famous people’s graves.”
Sylvan’s awkwardness is beguiling, leaving the reader with an image of Sylvan shrugging her shoulders as she tells her stories, of telling us, “Eff it.” But spirits can’t be much more free than Sylvan’s. These essays become the words of an older sister telling us what or what not to do, which mistakes we want to make. Her words are a comfort, too, because maybe we’ve already been there.
Sylvan is not shy in disclosing to readers her fear of becoming suffocated by not being able to create art. Plenty of people can look back on their twenties and tell the same stories, but the decisions Sylvan makes and recounts for readers here present a twist on that recognizable narrative, an inspiration for trying something new. In “Halloween 2011, Boston,” Sylvan goes on a semi-rant after losing a job she never wanted. She does not even tell us what the job was, but she explains the context of her disappointment in this way: “Because I’d woken up again sweating bourbon into unwashed sheets in my ten-foot by ten-foot occupation in a house rented to me dirt-cheap by an entrepreneurial acquaintance out of pity/patronage….” Sylvan writes here with hardly any punctuation, showing readers the unfiltered fluidity of her thoughts that lead to her eventual decision to take half of her $1500 savings and buy a plane ticket to France, where she goes on to read most of her written work.
The essays have the commonality of not being rooted in plot. There is a reflection that comes through where the work does not follow the standard of fashioned essay writing. Her footnotes are an afterthought to a life well experienced. The essays detail everything from Patti Smith to how to be a “proper slut,” where Sylvan’s writing crescendos to worldly living. Patti Smith was of inspiration because of her book Just Kids and Sylvan’s subsequent emotional response. Sylvan writes of a joke between her and her friend Caleb that she was the Patti Smith to his Robert Mapplethorpe. Sylvan even brings her idolization into her physical appearance, with a “shoulder-length Patti Smith-inspired shag.”
Sylvan, who founded a group for queer artists in Bloomington during her college years, writes of her pansexual history and gender nonconformity as a vehicle that highlights her growth as an artist. In “An Epically-Abridged Catalogue of the Author’s Major Romances, Revealing the Young Midwestern Author’s Odyssey Through Fluid Sexuality,” Sylvan memorably shares her intimate experiences within the context of how her own identity is thus established.
Sylvan explains her connection to Oscar Wilde through the kisses people have put on his grave. Later in the collection, she writes of her own experience with kissing the grave. Sylvan delves even more into these ideas with “The Poem I Wrote For Louis and Later Gave To Adelaide,” as well as with the poem “Kissing Oscar Wilde.” The title of the collection does not quite compliment the corresponding essay, but maybe there is an irony to that. The title is romantic, a side-step from the tone of the essays themselves.
With in an intriguing title illuminating a work of nonfiction that fits fantasy and downright rearranges all forms of comedy, primarily sarcasm, readers will find many spontaneous moments of laughter make the lungs feel harmonious. This book could be finished in a single sitting, but readers will want to savor each word, marinating in the details. The chronology of Jade Sylvan’s story hits in small ripples that are uniquely brushed with tender attention, asking readers to lend that same attention as they take in her excellent work.
Jade Sylvan, Kissing Oscar Wilde. Write Bloody Publishing, 2013: $15.00.
Ashley Paul lives for a dried ink pen. Her blog, Harvey Dntd The Milk, details her love of film in all its glory. She is passionate about working with students on their personal development through education. Soon to begin pursuing a Master’s in School Counseling at New York University, Paul currently happily volunteers to help first graders spell “home” and third graders tackle shapes. Through 826LA, a non-profit writing organization, Paul works with high school students in under-resourced schools to help individuals develop reading-comprehension and writing-expression skills, and it makes her feel spectacular.