Book Review: Joy of Missing Out

By: Olivera Bucalović

Ana Božičević’s latest book, Joy of Missing Out (2017), greets readers with the dedication “for the lost.” Centered in the page, these words seem to be floating in empty space and truly do look lost in the expanse. In my experience, dedications often reveal the tone of a book remarkably well and Joy of Missing Out (or, JOMO, as the title is often abbreviated) has reinforced this belief of mine. JOMO artfully renders what it means to live life while feeling lost in our increasingly expansive globalized culture.

My first introduction to Božičević’s poetry was stumbling across her poem “Swan” by chance. Her unusual rhythm, surreal yet familiar imagery, and poignant final lines caught my attention immediately—I was hooked. I must admit, though, that I didn’t understand the narrative of this poem the first time I read it. However, each re-reading gradually revealed more and more sense among the dazzling and strange images until these vignettes became part of an overarching story. I was very glad to discover that many of the poems in JOMO share this quality of gradually leading the reader into their world. Each of Božičević’s poems has an internal language that the readers must familiarize themselves with in order to understand it. Luckily, Božičević makes this process fun with her use of complex images that make re-readings a delight.

Throughout the book, Božičević incorporates millennial online culture and the result is a holistic look at how the Internet has shaped millennials’ perception and experience of reality. The effect the Internet has had on communication and culture is particularly exaggerated in groups that were previously isolated from representation in establishment media, such as the LGBTQ+ community and migrants—both groups which JOMO delves into.

So far, I have been discussing Božičević’s writing and the poems that make up JOMO in general. Let’s also take a closer look at some of the individual poems from the book that cover recurring themes.

JOMO’s opening poem, “Blessing,” walks the line between sincere reverence and cheeky impudence towards the world and sets the tone for the poems that follow. How often does a book start with the author expressing thanks at being told they will never be an artist? There is an element of this poem that recognizes that rejection by the existing system of the art world is valuable in its own way. The poem cannot be a rejection of the value of art, because why write the rest of the book if it was? Instead, it is a rejection of the current economy of art. Similar critiques of capitalism—specifically, its intersection with art and migration—are present throughout JOMO.

Another poem in JOMO, “Reveries,” deals candidly with both themes of queerness and migration. The poem starts with a reference to the television show Westworld, setting a dystopian scene with a Hollywood aftertaste. Božičević then writes about the possibilities brought by the morning—both as “the time of good intentions” and the traditional time of executions—before shifting focus to an absent lover with a comparison of missing heads from beheadings as well as from “the pillow next to you.” This quality of gently tumbling transitions between shockingly dark concepts and gentler moments is present in many of JOMO‘s poems. The lack of strict separations between exaggerated violence and ordinary life reflects how violence is consumed via media today. Božičević ends the poem with the lines “Cause love, Western love is rape / And so I have to stop loving her like that / I’m fucking trying.” It’s a forceful condemnation of the way Western cultural institutions treat love. The final line embodies the frustration and emotional exhaustion that comes with the difficulty of rejecting such a prevalent and internalized mode of feeling.

“Joyride,” however, is a poem that focuses on exploring the experience of migration, particularly that of migrant artists. This poem talks about how art can be a path to a new country but also how this path lacks stability. Towards the end of the poem, Božičević writes “This country’s a / Mirror image / Of the one I left, except / I’ve bad dreams.” These lines concisely capture the anxiety of migration to the West, where life is supposedly easier but often can be very similar—and sometimes more difficult in certain respects—than the one that is left behind with one’s familiar home country.

Despite tackling heavy emotional themes, JOMO also has well-placed moments of levity that are treated with as much sincerity as more somber parts of the poems. One of JOMO‘s most endearing qualities is that it shows how facetiousness and earnestness can not only coexist, but how they can enhance each other.

As you may have noticed by now, I have nothing but good things to say about JOMO. I enjoyed the vast majority of its poems, and even the few that are not to my personal taste (like “No Filter,” which is written in a style that references the “Doge” meme) have a hand in capturing a moment in time that is shared in both digital and mental space. JOMO, as a whole, does not attempt to move “the lost” towards where they should be but instead focuses on defining where they are. The poem on the book’s back cover encourages the reader to reject external points of validation and focus on one’s real circumstances:

“Run from institutions
  Run from your lovers
  Run from your currency
  To the current
   Ocean.”

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