"Now when I drive behind a Diesel-stinking bus On the way to the university to teach Stevens and Pound and Mallarmé I am homesick for war." ~Karl Shap...more"Now when I drive behind a Diesel-stinking bus On the way to the university to teach Stevens and Pound and Mallarmé I am homesick for war." ~Karl Shapiro, Bourgeois Poet
I love Chelsey Minnis and I think she is one of the most gifted writers publishing.
The problem with this book is the same thing that is so interesting about it: It is an encrustation in the shape of itself, made of the hardened guano of it's own self-loathing. This book is a self-fellating object. It is Poemland only--and nowhere else. It is about itself, the poem(s) that it is. It is also about death, futility, and the unsightly organs of human and poetic hubris, but ultimately these pledge allegiance to their country alone, and that country is Poemland. Everything else is façade, subtopical. Poemland reifies it's own futility in the shape of a book. It is like late Céline, not only for the ellipses. It is encrusted in its own gall as a shield from all touch or use: "With my poetry, I want to barricade myself from other people's poetry..." It broadcasts its limitations and ugliness from the pulpit of itself.
Page after page her characteristically cutting and alien metaphors are about the very page at hand. I would not be surprised if "This is..." appears 100 times in the book ("this" referring to the very poem being read, or poems generally). In a survey of the first 65 pages of the book (12 of which have no text on them, and none of which are longer than 7 lines) only 17 or 20 do not directly reference the poem at hand or poetry itself.
This is not why I think it is a failure. It is not a failure. It sets out to become exactly what it does. It is entirely, elegantly, vehemently resolved and internally consistent. It is even remarkable for this. It is a world unto itself and it does exactly and only what it acknowledges poetry to be capable of. It attempts nothing further. It is not a thing that aspires to travel, to get beyond the 'prison-house of language', to break itself against its style--or style itself--in order to get beyond itself. This is a planet that admits no visitors, no gases or creatures from other worlds. It can't touch them. It is a biodome of its own sequiny despair.
In this way I think the book actually occupies a position exactly opposite to the one an admired reviewer here has located it in. He quotes the book: "Sometimes I try to please someone that I hate... So that I can enjoy a range of satisfactions... You should always be doing a service for others... Even in poetry..." I agree absolutely with the cause he quotes this passage in service of. Against the "torrent of anti-usefulness" in poetry, he says that poems can and should "be of some use". But I think it is beyond dispute that this passage, in a book with 56 scanable bar codes, is deeply, deeply sarcastic. The "someone I hate" here is unquestionably the reader--if not someone else as well. It is the reader, who in a sense, is implicated in Minnis's imprisonment in the form. "Doing a service" here is just twisting the knife.
Still, there are here a few of the best aphorisms I've read in a long while. You just have to pop them out of the book like zits for them to be of any use. Also, I am intrigued by loathing. Also, Minnis is uncompromising in the extreme. Also, her gift is unmistakable. She is the old kind of writer. She would have made a better Modernist than post modern.
She needs a war in the way that the Dadaists needed them. WAR. Bombs. A physical crisis. This is what could make her certain of a usefulness. But Minnis has always let me down. It is part of what she does. Squander her immeasurable brilliance on sophmoric questions of style and self. It is as if she feels honorable for impaling herself on the limitations of what it means to write. The problem is that she overstates the limits, that insists upon them, dogmatically. In this she is kind of like Joe Wenderoth--an admirer of hers. Both seem to be allied with their own puberty in ways that are unseemly and also charismatic.
We should not forget what books and language have done to the world, i.e. make and preserve and destroy every inch of it. A world without The Bible, Freud, Marx, Darwin, The little red book. The Qu'ran. Various political declarations and documents. It is not this world. At the very least, these have been the funnel and implement of prelinguistic divinities and barbarisms only able to take on flesh by means of language.
Books are not meaningless. It is not necessary to build a posh little prison as Minnis has. Still, I loved being there. It was like doing coke off some model's cock in SouthBeach for 25 minutes. Then just leaving. But the hangover is that I am scared because we are so Roman. Scared that we have nothing to live for but our microscopic self-made hells.(less)
Real poems by a speaker who is also a person. I had almost forgotten. This brook was so beautiful that parts of it brought me to tears. 3 or 5 of thos...moreReal poems by a speaker who is also a person. I had almost forgotten. This brook was so beautiful that parts of it brought me to tears. 3 or 5 of those were of gratitude: I'd almost forgotten that people were the things that wrote poetry; I'd almost forgotten the ridiculous presumptuous bravery it takes to even speak.(less)
Despite being the only book ever to rival this one in heinousness of cover art-----I think Angry Women is one of the most important books of the Ninet...moreDespite being the only book ever to rival this one in heinousness of cover art-----I think Angry Women is one of the most important books of the Nineties if not the late 20th century--both as historical text and timeless shriek. It was an incredible education to read this, a lost trove, an oral history of late feminism through the lens of the most uncompromising, visceral, lacerating intelligences then performing art. It has it's flaws. They make better history. Everyone should read this.(less)
Gorgeous, loose-bound card collection of fabulous poems and amazing photographs. The best unbound journal there is. The best poetry-and-photographs jo...moreGorgeous, loose-bound card collection of fabulous poems and amazing photographs. The best unbound journal there is. The best poetry-and-photographs journal there is. One of the best journals there is. Buy this before they are gone. This shit is perfect.
Letter press poems and offset photos. Eat it.(less)
I thought, looking at the blurbs, having finished the book, that none of them quite stated the essential thing. I think the essential thing is: Alwan's...moreI thought, looking at the blurbs, having finished the book, that none of them quite stated the essential thing. I think the essential thing is: Alwan's' bravery lies neither in the force of her gaze nor in its color--it punctures what is seen, but silently; it infuses it, but invisibly. Her bravery lies in the great stillness of her gaze and in its excruciating duration.(less)
Great little journal of wiry, ambiguating, tightly coiled prose. In the Gary Lutz arena. It is edgy, stark, strange, and sad, and so of a piece that i...moreGreat little journal of wiry, ambiguating, tightly coiled prose. In the Gary Lutz arena. It is edgy, stark, strange, and sad, and so of a piece that it makes me wonder whether Gary Lutz is more influential than I thought or if this is some sort of independent "school" or trend that I am only now coming upon. Someone tell me. Stacy Levine is amazing.
This is the third time I have read a book by Duras and said it is the best book I have ever read. I am astonished and destroyed. Despite the fact that...moreThis is the third time I have read a book by Duras and said it is the best book I have ever read. I am astonished and destroyed. Despite the fact that the English publishers did everything in their power to make no one want to read it, by changing the title shamelessly in order to fit into the memoirs market. The real title should be translated--so I am told--Pain or Suffering. I didn't like the story from her communist period. I also had some problems with the following one, about the small Jewish girl, though it was beautiful. But these are maybe 5% of a book containing some of the best writing I have ever read. Perfectly flawed. I'm sure I'll say that again about her. She says of the first piece that it makes her ashamed of literature. That is so true. It is literary truth, not truth in literature. The portrait of her husband and his return from Dachau. Yes. That. That that that. It is Night. It is Better than Night.(less)
She never fails. I could read her grocery lists and feel purified. I don't mind saying that she is a genius, or that I wish Americans would read her (...moreShe never fails. I could read her grocery lists and feel purified. I don't mind saying that she is a genius, or that I wish Americans would read her (more). Or that she would be Ernest Hemingway were this country not a Francophobic auction house. Or that when, at last, the world learns to brook a woman with a human spine, she will be called what she is: one of the three dozen best writers of her century.
I do not know why it is so common that a certain kind of autobiographical writer, the kind who lives for the story, who intends her life as art, is so rarely also a master of style. I am thinking of Anaϊs Nin, or Henry Miller, or Kerouac, though the phenomenon does not end there. But Duras is both kinds. Her life is art; as story it stands alone. And her style, the voice in which she utters this life, is virtuosic, brutal, entirely alone.
There are writers we read almost entirely for the back-story of their brave, bizarre, or harrowing lives. We read their books as sources secondary to the texts of their imagined biographies. We read their interesting lives, their personas, in what, without these, might be much less interesting literature. I am thinking of Isabelle Eberhardt or the fiction of Bataille.
But Duras is one of the only writers I know who stands absolutely equal on either side. Her biography and her books perfect one another in her style.(less)
Her first book. She has not expanded, here, into the galaxy she will become. The seed is here, but it is small. Some of the weird, stunning, evil prec...moreHer first book. She has not expanded, here, into the galaxy she will become. The seed is here, but it is small. Some of the weird, stunning, evil precision---unequaled in English since Shakespeare, I say without blinking---is here, but hardly, tinily. These are ditties. Where is the mind-twisting surgical acidity? The arch, brokenhearted, wicked truth? The grotesque delirium and hilarity? Almost. Getting dressed. Coming!:
"Though her lips are vague as fancy In her youth— They bloom vivid and repulsive As the truth. Even vases in the making Are uncouth." (less)
It's a solid shame that Charles Bowden, as though rebelling against the staid sterility of mere journalistic fact, wrote this book with such an excess...moreIt's a solid shame that Charles Bowden, as though rebelling against the staid sterility of mere journalistic fact, wrote this book with such an excess of poetic style. Had he not, he might have won a pulitzer. NO ONE KNOWS what is in this book. It would have blown your mind. As it is, the egregious purple salad of its contents will have you looking askance at what are surely true, true facts. This book is the final exemplar of the potentials for political irresponsibility in poetic utterance.(less)