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Reviewed by:
  • As Long As It’s Big
  • Willis Regier (bio)
John Bricuth, As Long As It’s Big, Johns Hopkins University Press

Poems about unhappy marriage are old as Homer, spousal murder inspired Shakespeare and Aeschylus, but divorce poems are modern things. John Bricuth's As Long As It's Big convenes in divorce court, lawyers, in-laws, insinuations, and all.

Bricuth brings back actors from his Just Let Me Say This about That (reviewed in Prairie Schooner, Summer 2000) in new roles. Sir (formerly God, or nearly) is now a judge and again he gives big-guy speeches. Fox and Bird (formerly supplicants) are now bickering lawyers representing respectively Mr. and Mrs. Fish.

As Long As It's Big is performed as a sonata, with seven sections in three movements, marked "Allegro," "Largo," and "Presto." Divorces that begin allegro are rare, divorces that end presto are few. Sir is a stern judge who opposes divorce on principle. When we join the case, it has already dragged on a year.

In Sir's chambers, Bird complains of another judge who delays proceedings in an effort to reconcile couples. Though divorced himself, Sir agrees with the other judge and also prolongs proceedings. Bird informs him that the judge in question was photographed by his wife in flagrante delicto with a law clerk.

Imagine if you will the scene Next day at cocktail hour in the old Zinc Bar when every second patron claimed To've seen the photograph in question so as [End Page 177] Not to have his fellows think he wasn't In the loop, though no two versions of Its contents quite agreed, everything From "bumping heads al fresco in a closet" (Mentioned by some soak whose specialty Was torts. Or maybe tarts?) to "faire la bête À deux dos sans cesser" (proposed by one Acquainted with le code Napoléon, no doubt)

What of his higher principles now? On the brink of a spat about professional decorum, Bird and Sir are interrupted by Fox, who enters the room badly beaten up by his client's sister-in-law, Gert. It took four bailiffs to subdue Gert, and Fox's client, Mr. Fish, had the worst of it.

In words, a failed marriage (like any heartbreak) easily succumbs to hyperbole and cliché. Bricuth avoids such traps with three devices. First, the divorce of his poem is placed in an absurd context; few divorces will have been put into the hands of attorneys as ridiculous as Fox and Bird. Second, the circumstances of the Fishes' divorce turn out to be especially miserable. Third, by embedding the divorce in farce, Bricuth keeps the story racing along like a Buster Keaton movie. This book zips. Humor takes the edge off the sad proceedings with tiffs between Bird and Fox, clown cops, and many a sudden turn round enjambment smack into wordplay. As Long As It's Big is a long lawyer joke that even lawyers can enjoy.

Mr. and Mrs. Fish's attorneys know each other well. Fox had an affair with Bird's first wife, and has been married four or five times. Like oafs in a locker room, Fox, Sir, and Bird boast about their sexual prowess. Then at last, after much preparation and seeming foolishness, Mr. and Mrs. Fish enter chambers to indulge Sir's latest attempt to save their marriage. With Sir, Fox, and Bird already revealed as randy animals, the outcome is dubious.

Not until section IV of the poem does Mrs. Fish tell her side of the story. The mood instantly changes. After twenty-seven years of marriage, Mary Margaret Fish wants a divorce. Her husband Bill does not want to let her go. She remembers what a devoted couple they were, how they scrimped and eventually prospered, how much trouble they took to have a child, and when Stevie was born, how happy they were. But Bill Fish rose to a rank where his job got the best of him. In a weak moment he had an affair and it ruined everything.

Teenage Stevie Bird sensed his parents' shattered trust, took it into himself, withdrew, and in college killed himself by leaping from...


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pp. 177-179
Launched on MUSE
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