Real Phonies and Genuine Fakes
Winner of the 2023 Lammy Award for Bisexual Poetry
A Lambda Most Anticipated LGBTQIA+ Book of March 2022
A 2023 Guggenheim Fellow
What is illusion—a deception, or a revelation? What is a poem—the truth, or “a diverting flash, / a mirror showing everything / but itself”?
Nicky Beer’s latest collection of poems is a labyrinthine academy specializing in the study of subterfuge; Marlene Dietrich, Dolly Parton, and Batman are its instructors. With an energetic eye, she thumbs through our collective history books—and her personal one, too—in an effort to chart the line between playful forms of duplicity and those that are far more insidious.
Through delicious japery, poems that can be read multiple ways, and allusions ranging from Puccini’s operas to Law & Order, Beer troubles the notion of truth. Often, we settle for whatever brand of honesty is convenient for us, or whatever is least likely to spark confrontation—but this, Beer knows, is how we invite others to weigh in on what kind of person we are. This is how we trick ourselves into believing they’re right. “Listen / to how quiet it is when I lose the self-doubt played / for so long I mistook it for music.”
Real Phonies and Genuine Fakes asks us to look through the stereoscope: which image is the real one? This one—or this one, just here? With wisdom, humility, and a forthright tenderness, Nicky Beer suggests that we consider both—together, they might contribute to something like truth.
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Praise and Prizes
“Beer populates the book’s pages with a cavalcade of pleasantly deceptive voices . . . But Beer’s playful embrace of such strange subject matter conceals darkly complicated speakers whose ultimate deceptions fool only themselves . . . Clever, kaleidoscopic, and powerfully profound.”
“Electric . . . Readers are asked to look past first impressions in this imaginative and spirited collection.”
“From magic shows to drag shows, Real Phonies and Genuine Fakes applies a queer sensibility to some of life’s strange mysteries and pop-culture icons with simultaneous wackiness and intellect.”
“To read Nicky Beer’s third collection, Real Phonies and Genuine Fakes, is to experience poetry as pageantry. In Beer’s hands, the poetic form is a staging place for spectacle, replete with provocative imagery and a brash cast of characters . . . Her formal shape-shifting and penchant for performance make this a magnetic collection.”
“A mix of delightful humor and deep, delicate sadness. Real Phonies is critical of the facades we choose to believe in, sure, but underneath it all is Beer’s genuine love of performance and the transformative, healing power of suspending disbelief in the right moments.”
“The cheeky poem titles and subjects she chooses to inspect within clue you in to the fact that this is performance, with Beer controlling the show . . . Veering between full-on jokester, esoteric performance artist, and masterful dramatic actor delivering a gut-wrenching monologue, she lands somewhere in the middle, a generous magician who lets us see the mechanics of the tricks and of herself.”
“‘Beauty should always taste a bit of its own blood / and blame in its teeth,’ Nicky Beer writes in her triumphant Real Phonies and Genuine Fakes. Here is a collection of poems so funny they’ll break your heart and make you glad for it. Take these lines that comprise ‘Sawing a Lady in Half’: ‘they want it to be true / and don’t want it to be true / that they want it to be true.’ Or take the witty wordplay on the Dark Knight's name in ‘Dear Bruce Wayne,’ in which Beer imparts this wisdom: ‘The bruise / wanes. Every woman / is Batman.’ Nicky Beer is the superhero we need, and these poems are the invisible jet she has sent to save us. Real Phonies and Genuine Fakes is by turns lyrically burnished, subversively funny, and astonishingly beautiful. Beer says it best when she writes ‘what’s needed / now is a tongue with the chill of steel.’ Dear reader, look no further.”
“Nicky Beer’s Real Phonies and Genuine Fakes is a bonafide triumph––beginning with the table of contents. Just a few of her knockout titles: ‘Drag Day at Dollywood,’ ‘Still Life with Pork Livers Rolled Like Handkerchiefs,’ ‘Dear Bruce Wayne,’ ‘Two-Headed Taxidermied Calf.’ Unless you’re a pig or a cow, how could you not read on?
Beer’s intoxication with language combines with drop-dead wackiness and wisdom, and she uses fabrications to get at the truth: how disconnects connect us, how distortions, in concert, undo illusion. Via magicians, impersonators, forgers, plagiarists, liars, screen stars and two-bit actors, Beer delivers dark truths with humor and surprise. The poem ‘Elegy’ begins: ‘I never liked the dead boy.’ It’s a statement that feels less like confession than blunt instrument. Throughout the collection, the poems do a cannonball through the appropriate or expected into deeper waters.
In ‘The Poet Who Does Not Believe in Ghosts,’ Beer writes: ‘she believes death is God’s/apology for suffering.’ And in ‘Drag Day at Dollywood,’ she gives us a zany fun house of Dollys that morphs into a tender and sad eternity (or illusion thereof) in which ‘Dolly, exhausted and sunburned, collapses / onto a bench, rests her head on Dolly’s breast, / who rests her head on Dolly’s breast, who rests / her head on Dolly’s breast on Dolly’s breast.’
If that isn’t mother’s milk, what is?”
“‘The sky is one long drink,’ Nicky Beer writes in this much-anticipated third collection, serving as a most welcome resource for people who seek imaginative illumination—and who could use a good old-fashioned chuckle. This book shimmers with Beer’s trademark wit and wildly inventive takes on pop culture, history, and humankind. Listen for the thump in these pages—this book has a bonafide heartbeat.”
“A brilliant, rollicking collection, Real Phonies and Genuine Fakes illuminates the strange wonders and abiding mysteries that surround us. Beer is an exceptional writer, capable of mingling intellectual depth with humor and sharp poignancy. A wonderful book.”