This week the book review will be featuring works from Gimmick Press, a independent publisher of niche literature and art based in Plymouth, Michigan. Gimmick was established in 2015 by Josh Olsen and Katie MacDonald with a commitment to diversity and inclusion of both subject matter and voice throughout all aspects of their work. Gimmick publishes digitally through “Worthless Treasures” and calls for printed chapbook and anthology submissions throughout the year. They’re currently accepting submissions for an anthology of creative nonfiction about pop culture obsessions.
“Three-Way Dance,” a collaborative effort combining work by Michael Chin, Frankie Metro and Brian Rosenbacher, is a collection of creative work on professional wrestling. This singularity is not particularly rare; there are lots of only-one-on-this-topic books, and the professional wrestling niche is practically its own genre. The onslaught of books about very specific subjects (historically significant beverages, insomnia, dirt, the evolution of houses) usually sits comfortably in nonfiction, but “Three-Way Dance” entirely shuns jovial didacticism. This is no Bill Bryson romp through the glut of WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. Stay with me) — it’s Allen Ginsberg as a Reddit poet, “Fight Club” starring “Arrested Development” era Michael Cera, a fully plausible analogy for the palatial scale of absurdity in American life. Like professional wrestling itself, the collection is cheesy and heartbreaking, true but not real.
For those who are unfamiliar, professional wrestling is an orchestrated performance: a match whose outcome is decided beforehand, whose every move is predetermined and practiced. Fight becomes theater, thrill, spectacle, a concertina of pain (real, manufactured) and glory (the same) packaged for maximum entertainment. WWE is the biggest professional wrestling corporation in the United States. It’s a conglomerate that includes a film production wing (animated and live action), a publishing sector for biographies and calendars, a fleet of private jets and even a music studio that releases albums of entrance music as well as songs sung by wrestlers (John Cena’s “You Can’t See Me,” for example). I say this because it’s important to understand the giddy, unhinged hugeness of WWE, the enormous size and scope of its excesses.
Neither informative nor consistently beautiful, “Three-Way Dance” is simply weird. What’s so captivating about the collection is the exhausting comprehensiveness of the authors’ infatuation with a wacko slice of American culture, this overlooked world of violent dramaturgy and faithful spectatorship.
“Fritz Von Erich wasn’t a Nazi soldier, but he played one in the ring in the 1960s,” writes Chin in “The Family Trade.” What a way to start a poem! The whole book is shot through with a sense of the surreal: “Was it that you were the first white dude I ever saw wearing a do-rag, a fashion plate / Before your time, well before Hulkmania, and I can’t believe your fuzzy boots never / Caught on with the mainstream,” Rosenbacher writes.
For Chyna, one of the only female professional wrestlers, Chin writes an ode: “You signed a new contract. This time with Red Light District Video. A distributor for your homemade sex tape. They called it, ‘One Night in China.’”
In “Todo Lo Malo,” Metro writes, “It seemed only right to take a pound of flesh as a souvenir, maybe not a full pound, thought El Matarife, as he commenced to digging at the boy’s right eye and finally removing it, tossing it into the horrified/elated crowd.”
Split into three distinct sections by author, “Three-Way Dance” never feels cohesive or purposeful. The jarring differences between the authors’ styles and formats pushes the book into dangerous territory; meaning is often obscured in exchange for unsatisfying simplicity or confusing distortion. This would be more of a problem if professional wrestling didn’t offer up so many incredible tidbits, so much rich material to be transformed.
Luckily, WWE has nearly everything: gender, childhood obsessions, money, sex, consumption, race. Facades of control, appearances, histories. You watch knowing the fight is a sham, that it’s made up, but your eyes insist this must be real: the contact of face on mat, fist on face, teeth forced into gums and bones into muscle. It’s love, death, failure, opulence. It’s all fake.
“Three-Way Dance” is unafraid of these contradictions. Instead, Chin, Metro and Rosenbacher embrace the ways professional wrestling presents a version of the world and then immediately negates it. The book is a tempest, directionless and unpredictable, and within that mess sentences often jump out for their succinct loveliness. Rosenbacher, in “O is for Ole Anderson and Ox Baker”: “2nd best bet – Ox Baker’s heart punch. / It landscapes cemeteries.”
A heart punch, landscaping cemeteries: what a startling gem in a jumble of truly mediocre poetry. This book is full of awful lines (“It is in falling that we might rise,” Chin writes in “The Falls”), but when it’s good, it’s good. Which is sort of like wrestling, in a way. When it’s bad, when you see through it, when the fight is boring, you’re reminded of the falseness of the whole enterprise. But when it’s good the fight takes on an eternal drama, something that (like literature) both requires and rewards faithful attention. “Like Icarus who dared to touch the Sun / Like Icarus who dared to burn too brightly.”