The Nancy Book

The sly comedian of the New York School, artist and author Joe Brainard managed in his trademark “I Remember” poems to transform autobiography’s obscure intimacies into near-epic epiphanies—“I remember the only time I saw my mother cry. I was eating apricot pie.” The legerdemain was accomplished through deftly discordant juxtaposition, and the same handiwork is hilariously evident in his many collages, especially the more than one hundred devoted to the comic-strip icon Nancy. This volume collects over fifty of these works, including image-text collaborations with Robert Creeley, Frank O’Hara, Ron Padgett, and Ted Berrigan, among others. Brainard spin- cycled high and low to produce chuckle inducers like “Picasso Nancy” and “If Nancy Was André Breton at Eighteen Months.” Low and even lower are lubriciously evident in the numerous visual sex jokes, in which, for instance, smiling Nancy’s globular head is set on the splayed and naked body of a porn actress; or she’s made to wave gaily from a young man’s crotch in “If Nancy Was a Sailor’s Basket.” The campy innuendo is enriched by the inclusion of non sequiturs and otherwise-absurdist bons mots from Brainard’s poet pals. One image (Bill Berkson contributed the text) shows our gal and the imported cartoon character Henry in flagrante delicto as the off-the-wall line “In England ‘wet’ means ‘stupid’” graces the couple’s copulatory bliss (of course, the mouthless Henry’s delight must be inferred). Another image presents Nancy completely dark, as if she were a photo negative; her thought bubble has been filled in by Frank Lima: “I have burned down the sky,” she opines. Brainard was a master of life’s microcomedies, the unheard laughter that courses through any truly alert consciousness. And Nancy, with that bow like a pulsating noodle in her frizzy hair, is as good a Descartes as any for our age.