Review of Nicky Beer’s “Real Phonies and Genuine Fakes” by Ryan James

Milkweed Editions, 104 pp.

During an odd interview in the late eighties that involved inspecting the electronic guts of a tube television, Björk spoke of an Icelandic poet who told her that television screens had the power to hypnotize. It made her fear television until she read a book that explained the science of how televisions actually worked. Björk concluded the anecdote by saying, “You shouldn’t let poets lie to you.” Nicky Beer presents that line before any of her own appear on the page in the collection Real Phonies and Genuine Fakes, an assortment of poems that revolves around perspective and professional liars. What follows Björk’s wisdom are nearly eighty pages of a poet sharing her sharp-tongued truth.

Beer’s truth is her joyfully cynical perspective on the world as it unfolds before her. The poems within take inspiration from pop culture, magic, and history. Nothing is off limits in Real Phonies and Genuine Fakes. Beer sets the stage from the first poem in the collection. “Drag Day at Dollywood” paints a wonderful picture full of blond wigs, stick-on nails, and make up—a legion of Dolly Parton drag queens that embodies chaotic beauty:

Dolly holds back Dolly’s hair as she vomits purple

slush and kettle corn into a bank of azaleas.

Dolly, with weary patience, explains to Dolly

why she can’t pet her service dog. Dollys grasp

turkey legs in their fists, tear flesh from bone.

The endless loop of Dollys is as humanizing and charming as it is outlandish and surreal. Beer’s scope pivots between such wild scenes and the mundane everyday, like in “Still Life with Pork Livers Rolled Like Handkerchiefs,” where she makes note of feelings evoked by sliced meat in a Denver butcher shop. Beer writes:

Those sea anemone mouths

of pigflesh poised to kiss

nothing. And yet they make

me want to be cleavered and trimmed,

to be made more

tidy than I ever was

while living.

Beer’s lines speak to an awareness of herself – of her own flesh – brought about by the things around her. In this particular case those things happen to be rolled-up pork livers. But as Beer shows throughout the collection, inspiration can come from anywhere.

Her wicked wordplay makes each page a playground, regardless of subject matter – serious, comical, or comically serious. In “Dear Bruce Wayne,” Beer calls out the comic book hero on acting like he is the only orphan that exists. She then goes further by expressing how every woman already knows the hard truth of the world that he thinks he alone has figured out: “The world is a dark alley / hiding a gun in its mouth.” When she is done taking shots at Batman’s grimdark aesthetic (and lack of fashion sense), Beer ends the piece with a gut punch: “The moon waxes. The bruise / wanes. Every woman / is Batman.”

A sense of playfulness is present throughout several series within the collection. One is a handful of pieces that depicts forgers and magicians, people whose trades rely on tricks. Each poem considers the person pulling the strings behind any forgery, fib, or illusion. Beer’s meditations on magicians are particularly enjoyable. “The Magicians at Work” highlights a dramatic world of performers in competition: asinine rivalries, production costs, and the violence of men all performed to make a woman float. Beer writes: 

all to make a woman float

to make a woman float

and none of them ever thought 

of simply asking her.

“Sawing a Lady in Half” looks at a woman’s role on stage as a prop instead of a person while it focuses on the audience’s morbid enjoyment of seeing a lady hewn in twain. Meanwhile, “The Great Something” is not about an audience’s enjoyment of an illusion, but a scene of over the top retaliation to a baffling magic trick. Beer’s razor-sharp pen and whipcrack wit are on full display from the first line to the last. Real Phonies and Genuine Fakes is a fantastic collection of poetry from a writer who clearly has an appreciation for wordplay and has the skills to show it off. Beer is not a poet who lies. With her humorous perspective on pop culture layered through lyrically flowing lines she reveals nothing but the truth.


Ryan James is a writer of fiction and poetry from the Boston area. He is currently studying for his master’s in English at Bridgewater State University. His work has appeared in 580 Split and Reflex Press.