back toJacket2

The Internet address of this page is


Tao Lin
you are a little bit happier than i am
reviewed by
C.S. Perez
Action Books, 2006. US $14. 097656923 paper

This review is about 2 printed pages long. It is copyright © C.S. Perez and Jacket magazine 2009.
See our [»»] copyright notice.



As Kaiser Wilhelm was being overthrown in World War I, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire lay in his apartment badly wounded and dying from influenza. Outside his apartment, thousands of people were yelling “a bas Guillaume!” (“Down with Wilhelm!”). Although not entirely unrelated, reading Tao Lin’s you are a little bit happier than i am captures similar feelings of panic and surprise. We can perhaps describe Lin’s first poetry collection as a “panic attack”:

Section 2

i wake up at 2 p.m.
i am alert
i feel strange and alert
panic is moving through me, tentatively, like it’s not sure of itself
panic is saying, ‘is this right?’
my panic is saying, ‘is this how to do it? slowly like this?’ and i am saying, ‘yes,

just keep on moving through me and never go away, that’s it,’ and i am being sarcastic, but my panic has no sense of irony and it gets a little confident and moves through me a little quicker now and it is smiling now too and moving through me with confidence and speed


A disarming honesty and twisted charm moves through Lin’s poems; his tones range from the absurd (“i am fucked existentially / i am fucked existentially / i am fucked existentially / thank you for reading my poem”), to the comic (“we speak because we’re angry, depressed, alienated, and we would probably kill ourselves, but we go on to see if we might get published”), to the manic:


at work i wonder
if i should take anti-depressant medicine

finally, i decide, no, i shouldn’t

later i am feeling really depressed
do it, i say, take anti-depressant medicine

still later i feel better
anti-depressant medicine, i say, ha, ha,
ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha


The most pleasant aspect of you are a little bit happier than i am is its moments of surprise. In “The New Spirit and The Poets”, Apollinaire writes “What is new exists without being progress. Everything is in the effect of surprise. The new spirit depends equally on surprise, on what is most vital and new in it. Surprise is the greatest source of what is new” (The Selected Writings of Guillaume Apollinaire, translated by Roger Shattuck, New Directions, 1971). You are a little bit happier than i am feels new without relying on any formal progress that “The New” usually depends on. Lin’s poetry doesn’t try to shock us with dramatic formal technique or poetic manifestoes; instead, Lin surprises us with his subtle originality and rebellious attitude:


i want every poem to be weary with itself and afraid of the world
i want all the line breaks to be where you naturally pause
i want every last stanza to not be there
and i don’t want any happy poems for variety
because that is selling out
i don’t care how little money you make
because selling out is a figure of speech
and i don’t think you should lie to me with any nature poems
because you know you don’t think sand is beautiful
unless you’re in a good mood; which you never are
and i don’t want any acknowledgement page because you don’t have any friends


This is the closest Lin comes to an “Ars Poetica”, and perhaps the closest to fulfilling O’Hara’s promise of achieving the death of literature as we know it. However, we shouldn’t panic because Lin’s poetry panics enough for all of us. Through its honesty, playfulness, and dark humor, this collection leaves us a little bit happier by capturing what Apollinaire describes as “all this that is not new under the sun.”

C.S. Perez

C.S. Perez

C.S. Perez is the co-founder of Achiote Press and author of from unincorporated territory [hacha] (Tinfish Press, 2008).

Copyright Notice: Please respect the fact that all material in Jacket magazine is copyright © Jacket magazine and the individual authors and copyright owners 1997–2010; it is made available here without charge for personal use only, and it may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced, or used for any other purpose.