If Hugh Prather and Richard Brautigan had a baby and raised that child on "Ren and Stimpy" cartoons, Adderall, and excruciatingly self-aware porno, th...moreIf Hugh Prather and Richard Brautigan had a baby and raised that child on "Ren and Stimpy" cartoons, Adderall, and excruciatingly self-aware porno, that child might have grown up (or sideways) into Joe Wenderoth. That child would have had an exquisite eye for the sublime and sublimation of reality, a taste for the discrete and beautiful moments of transcendent mundanity, and an attention span too short to focus on anything not immediate, urge-ent, and visceral. Believing half the time that the world is given meaning simply by our attempts to make sense of it, and spending the other half making those attempts, Joe Wenderoth's Letters to Wendy's is simultaneously reckless and hesitant. I opened the book expecting a greater attention paid to the process of subverting an unexpected and convention-full form, more time spent on a series of gradual steps into abandon, so that the Wendy's comment cards, over time, become a realm of experimentation. Instead I was pleased and shocked to find that the comment card had simply been taken as a conceit, a place to stuff (literally, one cannot read the letters without imagining a frazzled, manic, adoring Wenderoth religiously, sensuously stuffing a painstakingly handwritten card into the little wooden comment box) the confessions of a seriously troubled, beautifully honest man. Wenderoth's narrator is brilliantly crafted, able at once to pursue words to the very limits of their philosophical and semantic capacity ("I was the sleep what is gazed through"), yet painfully unaware of his own agency. He writes and feels as if his life is happening to him and yet to the reader, who only gets to know him through the writing of his letters, it feels as if he is creating himself, fleshing and spiriting himself out, or perhaps into his letters to a higher power.(less)
[i]Pagan Operetta[/i] is personal and invasive, projecting the reader so far into the experiences of others (experienced immediately within the pages,...more[i]Pagan Operetta[/i] is personal and invasive, projecting the reader so far into the experiences of others (experienced immediately within the pages, not re-remembered and recapitulated) that the reader himself feels vulnerable and laid open. Just as trauma and mortality are at once viscerally overwhelming and surreally beautiful, so to is Carl Rux’s exploration of these themes, intensely carnal and powerfully driven, yet with an attention to sound and image that speaks to a serenity of control in the writing.
It’s almost a shame that there is so much, both in terms of actual pages and in terms of density of meaning, to this text; the variation of styles between poems makes for a dynamic, vibrant whole, but the size of the whole means that the variety cannot necessarily be appreciated in one sitting. [i]Pagan Operetta[/i] was one of those works of poetry that I was very hesitant to skip through, wanting to enjoy a cumulative reading experience rather than a composite one. This may be because Rux pays exquisite attention to the ebb and flow of human emotion, both within a given piece, tracking a narrator’s self-empathy rise and fall throughout the course of a traumatic event, and within the work as a whole, aware of when the reader’s prolonged compassion might be stretched to thin without some interceding humor or transcendence or distraction. And indeed, this work is made beautiful with the interplay of sarcasm and sacrament, who roots (etymologically and in Rux’s writing) are flesh and devotion. There is a means of objectification without dehumanization and of worship without idolatry with which Rux investigates the flow of humanity, turbid and inexorable. I wonder from what vantage point he writes: I am inclined to believe that he is not so much reflective, as he is catching up, making sense of the act of living through the act of writing. This might be, then, why his endings seem at odds with themselves, trailing off in ellipses or conjunctions, leaving out periods or concluding with a question. Sometimes his poems feel as if they are simply waiting for continuation, sometimes as if the author has become lost in thought, sometimes as if they are deliberate - and trite - attempts to look “unfinished.” In a collection that relies so heavily on the dynamics of the spoken word and on the sound of language, both architected and vernacular, ellipses can play a strong role as in “Languid Libretto” (page 96, where the tension between spaces and ellipses forces the reader to differentiate two kinds of pauses, expectant or final), or a weak one, as in “Red Velvet Dress Lullaby” (page 29, where ellipses appear so frequently I’m inclined to ignore them).
I am inclined to agree with Rux on his assertion that “There is no such thing as performance poetry,” and that all poetry is written, in one way or another, performatively. The graphic designer inside me, however, must confess that he does not like some of the visual translations of what would no doubt be effective vocal gestures. For example, the “climb d/o/w/n” on page 24 implies exactly what sort of drawn out reading I would give it out loud, but on the page, it seems overwrought and a little tired. I realize that this is much more the failing of the medium – unless we write poems using the IPA, we must resort to visual metaphors to convey such nuances as intonation – but I feel that Rux can and should place more trust in the strength of his work to convey itself. If a paper reading cannot present exactly what an out-loud recitation can, so be it; it will speak with other strengths. The beauty of poetry, and of Rux’s work in particular is that it lives such different lives on and off the stage, each worthy of separate and critical examination. Overall, the resounding [i]relevance[/i] of [i]Pagan Operatta[/i], the way it forces its relevance onto the reader, makes evident the need for a comprehensive appreciation of poetry, as sound, as image, as object, subject, and action. Rux spitscrawls a drumbeat hymn of blood and sweat into an asphalt symphony that swings from dreaming to screaming the indeterminacy of the difference between the prison and the paradise of human flesh, life, experience.(less)
Consuming some works of literature is like eating bacon, delicious, guilty, and heart-clogging. It is tender in some places, resilient in others, and...moreConsuming some works of literature is like eating bacon, delicious, guilty, and heart-clogging. It is tender in some places, resilient in others, and is at once overpowering and irresistible. Reading Rankine's Don't Let Me Be Lonely is like chewing on a live pig. It tastes of gristle and sweat and extended stretches of wallowing. You know that somehow, with a cutting up and cooking, what you're eating has the potential to be delicious, but right now it squeals and thrashes, and you ask yourself whether entering the sty was a good idea and hope, quietly, that nobody is watching. I maintained a state of suspended disbelief for the first several sections, telling myself that she had to be building up to something; that the moping was simply setting a mood, that the confused writing was meant to draw us into the mind and struggles of the narrator. By maybe the twentieth poor-quality photoshop (John Lucas's, not Rankine's fault, I admit) I realized that she must be in earnest. That indeed, she thought I might get something out of telling me of her unhealthy television habits, that simply narrating an ennui-filled event in a "poet's voice" renders it worth reading. I feel she has written this poetry for herself, a livejournal spasm of prose-poetry with which she tries to make sense of the vague feeling of dissatisfaction she gets from being unable to conflate her problems with the world's. I'll admit, I was biased. Referring to Emily Dickinson as "my love" puts you in my bad book pretty quickly, but I tried to give Rankine the benefit of the doubt. I'll admit, there were some things I liked. Extensive footnotes make me happy, although less so when they are not actually cited in the text; I feel that with Rankine's text blocks and formatting, endnote-indicating numbers would not have been significantly distracting or unaesthetic. Likewise, I loved the shape of the book, and the vibrant cover picture; granted, the title text looks kludged-on and slapdash. The work seems like it is trying to be poignant, and some images and ideas (e.g., a girl escaping the heat being mistaken for a suicide attempt, choosing between "happiness" and "happily") have the potential to be moving and profound. These concepts, however, are obscured by language that tries to toe the line between poetry and prose and succeeds only in scuffing it badly. As poetry, the work is full of unnecessary fillers, fluff language, words that do little more than take up space. For such a sparsity of unique ideas, I expect very economical language. As prose, the book is aimless and meandering, not in itself a crime, but when it is not compelling I am no longer interested in following, and I watch it stumble on away from me. I keep grasping at wonderful ideas but they flee from me and hide in unresolvedness and decidedly unmoving imagery. It's actually a shame to see Rankine do this to herself; her pig is growing fat and ponderous and you can see the lean rashers of bacon waiting to be sliced free and served sizzling. I suppose you could say this work is very affective, as I was thoroughly frustrated by it, and if that was Rankine's intentions, she is a master of her craft, and I applaud her for it. I can tell she is well-read, highly observant, and recognizes obscure patterns in reality, but her inability to convey these traits effectively is her downfall. Robert Creely writes of her work "Claudia Rankine here manages an extraordinary melding of means to effect the most articulate and moving testament to the bleak times we live in I’ve yet seen. It’s master work in every sense, and altogether her own.” I am forced to agree. There is no more moving testament to the bleak times in which we live than the fact that Dont Let Me Be Lonely claims to articulate and represent them, and thank God it is "altogether her own" because if it weren't, it might be mine.(less)