Thursday, May 5, 2011

Brief Reviews

Beautiful poems aren’t my forté, and I’m distrustful of poems that make an uncritical attempt to be beautiful, but the genuine lyric beauty of the poems in James Meetze’s (pictured above) new book, Dayglo, brings along with it the right degree of social and political awareness to make the beauty both earned and subtly undermined whenever necessary–and it turns out to be necessary a lot. Dayglo is full of remarkable insights into the physical and social landscapes of Meetze’s southern California home. These are indeed landscape poems, but they’re very aware of all the social constructions that shape ideas about landscape; these are landscapes filled with people and their contradictions.

If The New Sincerity ever really existed (did it?), Dayglo is the epitome of what it should have been: sincere while crucially incorporating irony, lush while never taking its eye off what is also annoying and frustrating about Southern California culture and politics. The book’s title poem is a successful attempt by Meetze at a longer, more philosophical lyric that’s almost painfully well-attuned to California’s immediately powerful physicality. “Mountains of earth rise from marshland/where we live background lives/ with basketball hoops in the driveway./A sporting chance for light to fill us./ Our digital children and their rapid-fire,/ virtual dreams, I see them bug-eyed in back seats,/ combat in every eye’s reflection.”

Several of the book’s later poems continue the title poem’s big camera-eye view of California environment and culture and take it into a broader historical scope, signalling that Meetze’s ambitions, so well-realized in Dayglo, are only continuing to develop.


Loquela, by Allyssa Wolf, the fifth number in Insert Press’ Parrot Series, reveals a somewhat more pre-Raphaelite, Victorian, Art Deco romantic sinisterness than did her earlier collection, Vaudeville, which was more consistently noirish and explicitly violent. But while Loquela may be more plaintive and decorative in the kind of longing that it exposes, its concerns remain of a piece with the ones that Vaudeville established: that separation is unavoidable, that the desire to inflict pain on others is inextricably bound with physical love, and that sexuality may very well be the best, most intimate ground for exposing the mechanics of capitalist domination and its various control fetishes.

Wolf knows not simply that love is political, but that politics itself, from its most totalizing conceptual levels to its most individual material acts, invades every aspect of the human desire to touch and be in contact with others. “Blinding silence/In the glittery beige room, and/Hymn in the thorns: “doing nothing”/ Such control of doing nothing, with strings/With each small movement, again/A bruise flowers and flowers...” These are dangerous poems, alluringly feminine, sharply self-aware, and relentless in their nearly science-like attempt to expose the most intimate corruptions that mark human confusion about love and power.


Allison Carter’s A Fixed Formal Arrangement has two sections. The first is a compelling section of prose poems which, using commas and no periods, feel almost like they sway as they move through a series of impressions, observations and a casual and oddly unique sense of alienation and isolation arisiting from unpleasant or difficult to interpret interactions with others.

The pieces in the second section, closer to flash fiction but still with significant prose poem influenced moves in direction and development, and with several numbered running series with titles like “Public Garage” and “Garage Apartment,” have a similarly disquieting and disorienting affect, as they move through a variety of garages (yes) and related urban and suburban settings. “I saw that you opened your mouth. Now there were three places: school, the rec room, and your mouth”(64). It’s a group of pieces about all the quiet ways people don’t fit the expectations of others, and it exposes and explores a powerful uncertainty about what there might be to want in the wasteland of contemporary American post-place no-place suburban pseudo-ideality. “Who wants to clean the garage floor, everyday, forever?” (79)


A bit of Bruce Andrews-style jamming the frequencies, a bit flarfy overt political excess, and all bristling hilarious fury that can’t hide an essential good humor, Brian Ang’s debut chapbook Paradise Now introduces a new talent whose work I think people are going to be reading for awhile. “What is Intelligent Design anyway/When quantum giggity-giggity multiverse anti-Batman/ Leads masturbation upon Übermensch Picasso/It’s 6:18 p.m. on Judgment Day/Dear Dr. Stalin Augustine Manhattan/Seneca Cloud Strife Lyotard hello/”.

The chapbook flings a wide range of reference (especially regarding the history of Chinese communism) and theory and genuinely scary wild contradictions at its readers with an abandoned and daring glee. If the poems wear their influences a bit too clearly at times, and if a few lines overreach into bits of generalized rhetoric (“alienation is played out and global capital is bullshit”), that doesn’t significantly harm the unassailably charismatic social grid feedback going on in these poems. I’m interested to see what Ang does next, and I bet I’m not the only one.

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