Rodney's Reviews > L.B.; Or, Catenaries

L.B.; Or, Catenaries by Judith  Goldman
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Jul 18, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: poetry

Lyrical Ballads (the “l.b.” of the title) was always a kind of experimental provocation. Could the ballad—repetitive, anonymous, artless, folk—accommodate the condensed, consciously crafted interiority of the Romantic lyric? Jasper Johns’ Catenary series of the aughts, with its loose cords hung slack before the canvas, equally challenged the standard split of artful and extraneous, with slackness, overload, droop, and excess held up against the angular space of the picture plane, the arena for painting’s traditional display of self-reflexive refinement and mastery.

Goldman’s poems extend both projects to embrace the language and subjectivities of our socially mediated, market-tested, content-provided, customer serviced, tech-drunk, steroidal political moment. Pointed puns (“oinkos,” “Ragged individualism”), portmanteaus (“spaghettoed”), epigraphs from Agamben to Woolf, thinky endnotes, learned allusions, strategic archaisms, and close attention to the line and its musical drive mark the writing as an instance of poetic play and display; “ow ow my hamstring!,” “Get Heart Smart,” “Fuck you lookin’ at?”, “Burger King friended me,” “Trying not to drunk text you,” “I LIVE ON ILLEGAL/EMPLOYMENT AND SHIT JOBS,” “And how you like me now” sound an entirely different linguistic register, the public speech of tweets and comment boxes, that giant, corporately archived 140-character-a-line ballad we’re all obsessively texting together.

The energy in Goldman’s work comes from her insistence on grafting one kind of language onto the other as if there were no difference to acknowledge. “I’d liefer Peer-/to peer,” “Whoso listserv, I’ll host,” or “I have seen the slain rise, their faces slosh” smooshes the vulgate up against Norton Anthology poeticity in a way that makes the one accountable to the other, switching out hierarchical grids for dialectical curves, po-mo detachment for the “tenacity of sentiment, subjectivity, and voice” in the teeth of all that's out to break it down.
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