6.25.2004

Poetry in Briefs (Updated)

Alan DeNiro challenges Poetry to come up higher. I'll try to find my latest issue. (Found--more to come.)

Just received in the mail is DeNiro's atari ecologues, a twenty-six poem sequence about the wonders gamemanship of yore. The title appears to be a pun of sorts ("eclogues" being poems in which shepherds converse; however, I'm not certain how "ecology"--the other half of the presumed melding of terms--fits). This quote from the author's website may help: "The 'ecologues'... come from the almost pastoral yearning for something that incorporates both the silicon and circuit board of her video games, as well as a a transcendental element that cannot be translated coherently."

I have a great fondness for the era myself. If you've grown up amongst the age's plethora of nonsense memes, it's impossible to miss some of the many allusions. The set-up of twenty-six poems refers, of course, to Atari 2600, the biggest game machine of its time. But then, DeNiro notes implicitly, through the use of English letters, that we have twenty-six letters in the alphabet, too. Coincidence? Fat chance. (Pardon the gnomic logic.)

Some great lines here:

"Pacman could hold the key, Eating
droppings in the maze, ravenous ghosts
that only became faster when I
became nimbler. Fucked that way
...." --from "c"

"My pocket's full of the many moods." --from "d"

"Better save the fallen, perfect city!

"With what? The boy holding
out the sea with his joystick?
Imagine that generally transpired
." --from "f"

The best poem, "j," pits the afficionado against the benighted common folk:

"Reset. I won't expect endings to end--
as long as the power's on....
perhaps Lawrence Welk is the eater of worlds.
In the restaurant, a woman from the other
windowside
mouths, Loser, to me. Gives me an L-
sign with her game-over hands. Not at 13, I'm 27.
The now,
the current place bookmarked. I heartily
agree, we're all losers, goners,
husks waiting for the money to come back
."

A sample poem can be found here. You can purchase it here.

***

American Poetry Review (July/August 2004) has good stuff to strut. Adrienne Rich wins the best poem title: "There Is No One Story and One Story Only."

Surrealist fans will dig Matthew Shindell--he even includes a dapper photo of himself in the mirror next to a seal swimming head-down, peering cock-eyed into the camera (see website).

Depending on how well his "Blackjack"--a figure which appears to represent Trickster--poems hang together as a whole, Ahmos Zu-Bolton II may be destined to become the next minor poet ("minor" is actually high praise, meaning he may be collected in anthologies of his age). In "The Folklore of Suicide Bomber" and "Blackjack's Song & Dance: a déjà vu," he seems to capture our time better than either side of our ever-present political knee-jerk punditry. The lines, in and of themselves, are not quite resonant but accumulate power. Consider the latter poem:

"He could never
tell the same story, the same way

no matter what history remembers...

when storied events are logical puzzles
laid out on the moment
when time freezes over....

each telling of the story
a new lesson plan.

He learned to live with the changes,
to celebrate them at times,
when even memory occasionally works
against
what history records
."

Considering what passes for "non-fiction" these days in a history of confounding complexity that is steam-rolled into flat-cakes for easy consumption (not that we can blame the historians' attempts since we're all rather bewildered), I admire what Zu-Bolton has done in this pair. Perhaps history should be redubbed "Half-story." There's a title for someone: "History: the Half-Story," which leads one to wonder: if history is one-half (optimistic at best) of the story, can there ever be a history? If history is improbable, is alternate history a practice at the art of perpetual motion? (Matthew Cheney links to several topics on the issue.)

Hayden Carruth cuts his lines best in "On Being Marginalized":

That's what the lady said. Said it right
Out, loud and clear. Said, "You've been mar-
Ginalized." Well, thanks. "It's too bad,"
She said. Oh, you bet your freakin' elbow....
I am, looking everywhere for a bottle, not
The one with a message, but the one with a
Nice drink of cyanide. Here's to you, lady.
So long. May you choke on that martini.


Carruth has a gravelly voice that suits his poetry perfect. Len Roberts' "Letter to HC in the Hospital" ("HC" is presumably Carruth) has the most emotive punch in the entire issue. Let's hope APR reprints it online. Chistian Thompson also writes an essay on Carruth's "Contra Mortem" (a long poem collected here).

***

Bomb, a magazine of multiple arts, has an intriguing prose poem by Diane Williams, "Opening the Closing Mouth of the Woman," the title of which coveys much of the meaning. Though it opens no new territory on the matter, it is well executed: "Faustine--that is her name--is dedicated to the rammers after she has been loaded with their meaning." My favorite title is Matthew Zapruder's "Cat Radio," but the best poem is a lament played off-key from the contributing editor, Tom Healy:

Someone has toyed
with the history.
Was it you?

Events rearranged,
my good dolls broken.
Who took liberties,

sat in the chair
decided not to eat?
Who left warmth

in these sheets?
Everything here
was to stay cold.


--from part II of "Rituals of Marriage"


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