Photo by Jez Timms / Unsplash

A Dip Inside a Gently Chaotic World

Books & Literature Jul 5, 2024

by Blair E. Vandehey

The inside of the cover of Tyler Gaca’s Gentle Chaos is wrapped in red and blue cloth speckled with stars, almost as if he packaged the poetry collection in an American flag. It turns out Gaca has ushered us under the cover of his baby blanket and the world frozen in time within it, a place he says in the poem “Baby Blanket”, “I felt so small inside that blanket, and for those moments, the rest of the world disappeared.” Normally, you wouldn’t save a spot in your baby blanket to just anyone, but Gaca wholeheartedly entrusts his innermost feelings to readers in Gentle Chaos, a charming story of reuniting all the shards of yourself and holding onto what cannot be held.

Gentle Chaos explores the things that inhabit the liminal space between existence and nonexistence. Throughout the collection, Gaca ruminates on photographs as proof of lives that would be otherwise forgotten, how love isn’t something you can reach out and touch yet still remains so tangible, and memories made long ago that still manifest in present habits. These reflections douse the book in a bittersweet tone, and yet, Gaca doesn’t hold back when it comes to comedy. “Ghosthoney’s Guide to Dressing Like a Love-Stricken Victorian Dandy,” for example, recommends readers not be afraid to scandalize the world by showing a little ankle. These emotions may conflict, but so does the human experience which Gaca emulates so authentically.

Gentle Chaos: Poems, Tales and Magic. Tyler Gaca aka Ghosthoney. Publisher: Runing Press Adult; 240 pp., Published: October 3rd, 2023

At the end of Gaca’s many dedications, he declares, “THIS BOOK IS FOR ME, / JUST AS MUCH AS IT IS FOR YOU.” At its core, Gentle Chaos is a story of reconciliation (or at least attempts at such) between his many parts that make up the whole person; the starry-eyed child afraid of the dark, the internet personality that he has created for himself, and the artist in a world that discourages creativity intersect within the pages with hopes they all learn to coexist within him.

To begin, Gaca explores the complicated relationship with his celebrity status on the internet–he thinks it to be a caricatured version of himself but also a way to bring joy to others, if only momentarily–in the introductory poem of the collection’s fourth part, “Ghosts and Honey.” He acknowledges living the same impersonality that he idolized as a child in Elvis and Shirley Temple in “Here Lies the King” and “Shirley Temple” respectively. He now finds himself in the same position that enthralled him as a child, the state of having “your name / shown only ever in lights.” Gaca has become the idols he once worshiped, an ironic twist of fate leaving the relationship between his inner child and his online personality off on a dissonant note.

The child-artist and artist-internet reconciliations, on the other hand, go well. In “For the Artists,” the childish desire to create art resurfaces as Gaca answers the call to create after four long years of being lost in a world that waits for no one. Both have been repressed, but his decision to pick up his paint again and create art for himself–not art that his job demands–sets them free again. Later, the internet personality and the artist, having been once considered separate by Gaca, meet each other halfway as the poet learns that sometimes art is hearing another person like your posts.

Upon opening Gentle Chaos, you may believe it was shelved in the wrong section at the bookstore; the first few pieces in the collection read like a lyrical memoir, not a book of poetry. Through prose, he intimately revisits his memories as one would in an autobiography. As the collection goes on, traditional elements of poetry start to filter in, readers getting a glimpse into Gaca through rhyme and meter as well as through prose. While Gentle Chaos is Gaca’s own story, he never crosses the line of the works being too intimate. Sometimes in poetry, authors will share an experience so personal that readers find themselves unable to relate at all, thus taking away from the overall experience. Gaca begins many of his poems with these individual memories, but unlike many other poets, finds a way to extend his own experiences to that of his readers. Gaca may begin a poem by talking about his family’s individual traditions on Christmas to making a grander claim about the holidays slowly losing magic as time goes on. Both author and reader get their moments on the page.

By the time readers leave the safety of Gaca’s baby blanket and close the back cover, Gentle Chaos will have truly lived up to its title–with great care, our author leads us by the hand through life’s highest highs, lowest lows, and most unexplainable moments taking place between the fractions of ourselves.

Blair E. Vandehey is an Appleton-based writer, daydreamer, and lover of all things pop culture. She is currently working towards a degree in Creative Writing at Lawrence University.