The most important line in Franki Elliot’s debut, the prose-poetry/fiction hybrid chapbook Piano Rats (Curbside Splendor, $10), may not even be found in the main text. On page three, a small chunk of text reads: “This book is most obviously dedicated to someone I used to know….”
The book is a collection of deeply personal pieces, arranged as free verse poems, though Elliot calls them “stories.” And they do read as stories, the kind told around a kitchen table—or even, in the case of “Nothing,” a recounting of a story that happened while a story was being told around a kitchen table. Most of them detail a down-and-out cast with unbroken spirits, people who predict early deaths but live as if they don’t believe it. And at the book’s core is a sense of loss, if not of a specific person—as the dedication would indicate—then certainly of a sense of comfort.
“There was someone I was dating, who went behind my back and put a bunch of my stories together and gave them to me, and said, ‘See, you have a book,’ ” says Elliot, over the phone on her lunch break from work. “The whole book has changed since then, but there’s definitely a part of him in most of the stories. I wanted to give credit where credit is due.”
Elliot is a little more shy about giving herself credit for the stories, given that “Franki Elliot” is the pen name for 27-year-old Chicagoan Sharyn Goldyn, a junior agent at talent booker Windish Agency. Initially, Goldyn self-published the chapbook in a limited-edition run of 100, and sold them herself. She sold all of them in a couple of months, forgetting to even keep a copy for herself. She says there were two reasons for the pen name.
“At first, I just didn’t want to mix up my professional life with my writing life,” she says. “It’s a very personal book, a little edgy, maybe a little sexy. But initially, with that first batch of books, I planned on just hiding them around the city, and leaving it up to fate who found them and read them. And I didn’t want those people to be able to trace it back to me.”
Goldyn eventually showed the manuscript to the editors at the Logan Square–based small press Curbside Splendor, who decided to release it in a full print run. The original cover artist, Shawn Stucky, remained, and Goldyn says the book sailed through the editorial process with a few edits.
Clocking in at a brief 70 pages, the poems, stories or prose poems—pick your term—fluctuate from sandpapery interactions between family members or lovers to dreamlike sequences in which linear narrative disappears. And there’s a good deal of humor in there, too. In “Slow Process,” she writes, “Last January,/you told me the only reason you weren’t committing yourself/to an institution was because you could still write letters.” In “Run On Sentence” she writes “Apparently the profits/from my toilet paper/are helping people with disabilities.” When asked, Goldyn describes her style as Charles Bukowski meets Miranda July.
“That just seems to be what everyone says,” Goldyn says. “The stories are like a female Bukowski, not afraid to drop an f-bomb, a little bit vulgar, very honest. And Miranda July is just someone I wish I could write like. But I do think there’s a vulnerability in her writing, and that my characters are very vulnerable, too.”
Goldyn reads from Piano Rats Saturday 15 at Hinge Gallery.