HUM WHO HICCUP by Chris Mason
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bookshelves: poetry

A new bk by Chris Mason! That IS a cause for celebration - & maybe even some cerebration. I've know Chris since about 1977, at the latest by 1979. Alas, any time I honestly review a bk by anyone I take the risk of alienating myself from the author(s). This, of course, is an even worse dilemma when the author's a friend of mine, when the bk was given to me by the author, signed, no less. Wch isn't to say that I'm going to give this a 'bad' review. As usual w/ my reviews, the absence of a rating is an indication of the irrelevance of such ratings & NOT the lowest rating of them all.

Chris has been involved w/ performance poetry for as long as I've known him. Most of his poetry has a visual element beyond just the appearance of the words on the page. Given that I expect poetry to be engaged as fully as possible w/ its potential, having these 2 elements practically insures a heightened interest from me.

But Chris certainly doesn't stop there. For +/- 30 yrs Chris has worked w/ deaf people w/ learning disabilities. I don't know whether he still does but I reckon he still does. It's his profession - one of them, at least. This means that his work is often influenced by the lingual encounters of sd profession. There's been sign language used in early works & abbreviated & mutant grammar. I've always found it rich & fascinating.

In the late 1970s he was a member of the performance group CoAccident - wch was a subset of the Merzaum Collective. Another subset of Merzaum was its publishing arm(s): "e pod" magazine (unfortunately short-lived), "pod books" (who published Chris's 1st bk: "Poems of a Doggy" - 1977), & "Widemouth Tapes" (founded by Chris around 1979 & taken over by me from 1981 to the present: ). In 1979, he & Charlie Brohawn, another old friend of mine, started "The Tinklers", a performance group who've released tapes, records, & CDs.

The Tinklers, for me, were an outgrowth of Charlie's interest in Outsider Art & in earlier projects of Charlie's - such as recordings he'd made w/ a neighbor friend - & in a collaboration w/ Lamar Layfield called "STEEV-E SQUEEGEE DECODE" (not written correctly here due to technical limitations). The more performative aspects of it came largely from Chris's background.

At 1st I was very interested in The Tinklers. I particularly loved their performance called "History of the World" & their early artist's bks & tape were wonderful: The "History of the World" chart & the "Tinklers Book" were phenomenal. But as the work developed more & more into what I thought of as simpler 'faux naive' I started losing interest somewhat - not entirely, just somewhat. "Manifest Destiny" was simpler, &, I thought, lazier. I did like the later "The Tinklers Encyclopedia" alot.

But what bothered me about their progression was that they started making paintings-in-the-style-of-naive-folk-art. I'm sure they genuinely LIKE this style & a similarly styled painting adorns the cover of "HUM WHO HICCUP" but I didn't really consider either of them to be naive! After all, Charlie graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art as a painter & Chris graduated from Johns Hopkins University.

The simpler & more affected The Tinklers got, the less I was interested in them. As their music went from creatively primitive to just simple-minded I no longer enjoyed it. After all, there are a zillion people out there writing songs to be sung backed by the simple strumming of simple string instruments - who needs more of that? & there are zillions of people out there making unskilled art depicting simple subjects in simple representational ways - who needs more of that? WELL, the answer, perhaps, to "who needs more of that?" may be NO-ONE (it certainly ain't me) BUT most people seem to love it & The Tinklers are popular (at least in a cultish sortof way). SO, the more The Tinklers became simple folk artist pop musicians & less experimental primitives the more I lost interest.

BUT, w/ that sd, The Tinklers & Chris Mason STILL manage to transcend simple categories. They both bring more to the work than yr average whomever. I'm very fond of, eg, a more recent Tinklers song called "Slowpoke" about a truck driver who decides to drive slower than the rat race might require b/c he realizes that his kid(s) wd rather that he LIVE than risk an accident in the interest of making more money (or, at least, that's the way I remember it).

Enter "HUM WHO HICCUP": it doesn't have the raw plant-like growth of rich reference to complex life that his much earlier "Click Poems" did, & I miss that, but there's still a richness to it - less abrasive, perhaps, w/ aging, but still showing growth & an interesting clarity. Older people's work may not have the explosive energy of that of their younger selves but there's sometimes a deeper sense of harmony & concision (take Liszt's later piano pieces). That seems to be the case here.

The formal parameters are constrained & precise, everything is tied together neatly. EG: 4 syllables per corner of each page, 4 corners used - this in "Tetracubes".

Don't be fooled: Chris, like myself, is getting older. His memory is probably getting worse, he may seem to be slow - but don't be fooled: his poetry's a dead giveaway that he has long-term patterns of thinking at a level that few ever achieve. Take one of his riddles:

billion bucks:
gone from Earth.
People cheer,
"We love you,
When are we?"

Really the only complaint I have about this bk is the bio in the back: it mentions the records & CDs released by Shimmy Disc & Serious but there's no mention of the 2 tapes that Widemouth publishes & that's just plain stupid. IMO, the Widemouth Tinklers tape is the best recording they ever made - & Chris's "Click Poems Liptych / Ignorant Translations" tape (the latter half w/ Ellen Carter) was my favorite spoken word recording until my own "Broken Whirred" came along. C'mon, Chris! REALLY!!

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
April 7, 2011 – Finished Reading
April 8, 2011 – Shelved
April 8, 2011 – Shelved as: poetry

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