Reginald: All I ever wanted was to be a deployable resource.
Judas Priest: The engine roars between my thighs.
Grammar: Some things, however, are simply built into how the mind works. Toying with them is madness.
Beautiful Object: Oh, look at the pretty things!
Group of Dudes:
We don’t care
We don’t care
All we wanna see
Is your underwear
Section Leader: All right, section members. The Commandant is on his way. Prepare for inspection.
Reginald (lining up). I’ve always loved being inspected.
Judas Priest: We are the hell patrol. All guns, all guns blazing.
Grammar (grumbling): Once a subordinate clause, always a subordinate clause.
Beautiful Object: Cleaned and pressed and ready to go, Sir!
Group of Dudes: Fuck. Ouch. Shit.
Section Leader: I know how long you’ve all been waiting. Today’s code word: One for all and all for one.
Reginald (gratefully). I’m a cog. I’m finally a cog.
Judas Priest: The engine roars between my thighs.
Grammar: It’s true that all the parts, when taken together, must form a complete whole.
Beautiful Object (showing off): Don’t forget to admire the centerpiece.
Group of Dudes: Hey, can you repeat what you just said?
Everyone looks at them reproachfully.
Group of Dudes: What? My cell rang. Can I help it if my cell rang?
Grammar: That’s just great. Here I am, stuck with a bunch of run-on sentences.
Group of Dudes: Dude, what makes you think we care? We’re just marking time. Waiting for life to begin. Don’t harsh my buzz, getting all full of purpose and shit.
Reginald: Team Leader, Sir. Permission to report an infraction, Sir?
Section Leader: Granted.
Reginald (walking up to Team Leader). I have the impression, Sir, that some people aren’t getting with the program.
Section Leader (coughs): Well, uh, well. Well. We’ll see about that. The Commandant, as you know, is on his way.
Revolution walks in. Everyone turns in Revolution’s direction.
Revolution: The economies least damaged by globalism are the ones who refused economic restructuring.
Group of Dudes: Who’s the clown? Kick his fucking ass.
Reginald: You’re not the Commandant.
Section Leader (to Revolution): You’re late. Get in line. You’re this close—this close—to being guilty of breaking rank.
Revolution (sarcastically, getting in line): I sure wouldn’t want to do that.
Beautiful Object: You’re cute. Want to form a domestic partnership?
Reginald: You really do try that on everyone, don’t you?
Beautiful Object: It’s not my fault if some people say they can’t afford it. It’s not my fault if some people say, “Not until we have better benefits.”
Reginald (huffy): So I want an institutional framework. Is that so wrong?
Judas Priest. Change, change, all re-arrangin’. Look around, at the sit-u-a-tion.
Group of Dudes: Tequila shot, motherfuckers!
Reginald (still huffy): Better to buy in than be left out.
Revolution: Yet globalism has left more people than ever before without a stake in any system. What are you gonna do, build more prisons?
Reginald: Better to manage the money than to be managed by it.
Grammar: Language is not a prison house. Processing words is a basic biological function and it behaves according to certain laws. All of this is elucidated in Chomsky’s notion of deep grammar. Please don’t say anything more until you have absorbed the truths of that text.
Group of Dudes: Always some asshole trying to get nuanced. I don’t even know what nuanced means.
Beautiful Object: I need attention bad.
Judas Priest: No sign of life. No flicker on his face.
Grammar: Where’s a topic sentence when you need one?
Section Leader (shouting): Enough. Everyone in line.
Reginald: I’ll follow you anywhere, Sir. Even Tampa Bay if necessary. Nashville, Asheville, you name it. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to let the winds of capital blow me about. Think of the salary.
Judas Priest: I’m headed out to the highway. I’ve got nothing to lose at all.
Group of Dudes: Party on both coasts!
Beautiful Object: All she wanted was just to be free, and that’s the way it turned out to be. Flow, river, flow, down to the sea.
Revolution: Wait a second. Isn’t any of this open for discussion? If the goal is freedom, why can’t we even discuss what it means to be free? Oh, I get it. None of you are even you. You’re only the image of you that you wish to project. Meanwhile, people are dying, countries are falling apart. And all you do is sit around and watch TV like you’re on it.
Beautiful Object: Gross. Ewww. Imagine how fat they’ll get. It’s so horrible that all I want is not to think about it.
Group of Dudes: Hey, any girls out there? We got beer. Got cable.
Judas Priest: We are saints in hell.
Reginald: People, please. Can’t we work together on this? Follow the rubric?
Revolution (groaning): Where’s my politics of hope? I’m surrounded by people who just want a piece of the action.
Section Leader: Everybody at attention! The Commandant is here!
wordlick, the latest book by Joe Ross (pictured above), pushes its astonishing linguistic pyrotechnics as far as it can go, then pushes it several steps farther. The series of five-line stanzas, each of which ends in a period, and spread out three to a page, purposefully never make clear whether we are reading one three-stanza untitled poem per page or an ongoing long poem. Each line is crammed with invented word combinations (“Casinochipped in wonderskated breezeby reserve”) that sometimes end in single words and sometimes in further word combinations.
The language of wordlick immerses readers in a social and political bog from which there’s no easy way out (“Kneeraised buttocklock in doggystyle war” is just one of many impossible to navigate morasses), and the bog just keeps coming, overwhelming and fascinating simultaneously. The poems very consciously range in the layered subjects they take up, glance at, and slide by on into the next tongue-twisted-and-numbed-and-twisted-again word package. If the poems undoubtedly revel in language play that’s meant to impress, they do so always with the purpose of showing that it’s not a game at all, but a serious evocation of what might just be more, and more manipulated, social meaning and control than any of us can stand.
It’s worth hearing Ross read these poems live, his shoes clicking, shoulders and head bobbing in some off-kilter combination of tap dancer and prize fighter. Reading them to yourself, be forewarned: even more than most contemporary avant poetry, it’s difficult to get through more than a few pages of wordlick at a time without suffering linguistic burnout. But return to the poems every so often, and the power of what Ross is doing grows and digs in, leaving readers of wordlick with the kind of elation that only exhaustion can create.
Kathryn l. Pringle’s Right New Biology knows exactly what the central point of all political and social difficulty is: human (and other) bodies. Pringle’s book shows many and often conflicting large global forces coming to bear on that most intimate physical context. Psychology, theology, war, culture, nation states; these are only some of the pressures that human bodies encounter daily.
Right New Biology also reveals that language itself is a body, and makes readers constantly aware of the physical of language through jarring usage of capitalization, broken words, and shattered syllables wobbling unstable across the bland whiteness of the page. This fracturing of words and syllables and different mishapings of the look of the page (which works both against, and with, the fact that the whole book might be considered a single long poem) reminds me a bit of the physicality of Hannah Weiner’s work, although Pringle’s subject matter is framed much more blatantly by competing discourses of power. “broken muscle AND RIGHT/ where all langering furls from endorphins to WAR/ a FOND ignorance we calls it/ this that is sprung of METTLE/ and lending spaces/ veterans MISPLACED limbs/ that trivial uttering/ encamped unfolding/ surreptitious following.” This is a smart, challenging, and remarkable book, informed not just about poetry but about the many non-poetic tensions in which poetry is enmeshed, and bristling with insight about all of them.
The sensitive, understated lyric surfaces of Lacey Hunter’s poems in her inaugural chapbook The Unicorn hide more deceptive angles that undermine and break up the angst of sexual and romantic desire that the poems often explore. The Unicorn acknowledges how things right in front of us, or things we seem to care about most, are filled often by what people don’t understand or fail to notice, since we’re all too busy obscuring our observations with our needs.
These are poems about the odd edges of loneliness and failed connection, and the way some moments can’t be captured by images. “She took off her danger—the house/doing the good ordinary thing / the narrow/ quiet thing all fighting to rush out together./ We were just going to take a little/and then bring out the car.” Expect to see more worthwhile future work from Hunter, a young poet currently based in Ashland, Oregon, and contact her if you'd like a copy of the chapbook.
Robert Mittenthal’s Wax World is a crucial book of poems that, I worry, may not be read as widely as it deserves. Mittenthal, based in Seattle, writes poetry that operates at the nexus of several key approaches to contemporary poetry. Anybody interested in new developments in poetry fully informed by the theoretical, political, and aesthetic histories of language poetry and of Vancouver Kootenay School of Writing work will find Wax World as good an example of extending the power of those histories as there is in newer generations of contemporary writing.
Wax World is a brilliant mix of concreteness and abstraction operating not simply as aestheticized technique (a problem in too much contemporary experimental poetry) but as a political case study, and a fully realized instance of its own theory in action. These poems show, through their precise accrual from line to line, a world in which “the abstract power of society creates its concrete unfreedom,” in Guy Debord’s famous phrase.
Mittenthal’s poems in Wax World always risk collapsing into the oblique, dissociated haze of contemporary confusion as a necessary gesture in portraying how contemporary capitalism bewilders us with terminology and megabucks sleight-of-hand. Then certain lines twist, sharply, into moments of political clarity. Mittenthal doesn’t write the flashiest poems around, and he certainly doesn’t fetishize the new in an attempt to grab center stage in the avant poetry popularity contest of the moment. Instead he writes developed, precisely delayed word bombs designed to pinpoint the center of whatever structure he’s going after and blow it open. “Each letter a snapshot of what remains——previous occupant unknown/The body decamped, leaving its plastic bivouac/ An indistinct wave which yields no magic/ No flakes of dead skin. No DNA samples for the imagination.” Wax World also contains the poem “Value Unmapped,” which appeared in an earlier Mittenthal chapbook that I blogged about here.
Carol Novack, editor of the online journal Mad Hatters Review, is announcing a new blog and looking for submissions:
Announcing the Mad Hatters' Review Blog! Call for Submissions
Mad Hatters’ Review is an online journal with a collaborative spirit
that caters to an international audience with an appreciation for wit,
whimsy, dark humor, satire, lyricism, rhythm, word play and post
postmodern post avant-garde literature, art, music, politics, films,
columns, book reviews, interviews, scratch n sniff projects, collages,
literary audios, etc.
We at MHR see the Mad Hatters’ Review Blog as a gathering place for
courtiers of spoken and unspoken words, inventive images and music,
and of course, the mad at heart, to stay informed and invigorated.
Our multi-media landscape is featuring poetry, flash fiction, interviews, reviews,
visuals, audios, and contributors’ news—in short, whatever strikes hosts and editors Marc
Vincenz and Susan Lewis, and occasionally publisher Carol Novack,as intriguing
or enlightening for freethinking arts enthusiasts everywhere.
Check our non-profit organization's new websitefor the latest on the MadHat’s Little Mountain Retreat in Asheville, North Carolina, and MadHat Press’s Wild and Wyrd Poetry Chapbook Contest –to be judged by the quintessentially mind-bending Philly poet CAConrad, andsubscribe(free) to MHR's newsletter for infrequent updates you may not catch on our blog.
The Mad Hatters’ Review Blog welcomes submissions of single poems,
flash fictions, short interviews, audio works, visuals, multimedia
pieces and reviews all year round. For poems, we prefer no more than 20 lines.
For flash fictions, preferably no more than 300 words. Please include a short
biography. Include the name of your piece in the Submission Title. No
multiple or simultaneous submissions. We answer within 14 days, but
more likely within 24 hours.
ONE poem (20 lines max)
ONE flash fiction (300 words max)
ONE mini interview (3 – 5 questions)
ONE review (500 words max)
Submissions of previously published poems and flash fictions may be
considered as long as authors own the copyrights and the works were
published in a print mag or defunct online journal.