Dan Disney Reviews the deciBels Series

24 March 2015

Pregrets by Anselm Berrigan

Early on, these sound-bitten vocal simulations ask, ‘why would a human regret shit?’ Throughout the book, Anselm Berrigan remains disinclined toward answering his own question, proffering instead glitching texts that catalogue irreal dreamscapes as if recorded by an affectless droid requiring immediate technological assistance:

I’m not going to run away with the icon
a local wall explained, cautionary Europe
trip, bedding affects between strangers
but the picture plane is being fucked with
by the playground, flat blue bag of floating
snacks just walks itself away, the big bleeding
studio comes down

On and on the Berrigan-droid roves and drones, without need for pause, crossing instead the ‘constant hungry undulating surfaces / formed by a shit-ton of remarks, all invisible connections’. On and on, into the mashed-up, non-narrative, liminal, libidinal, theatricalised grey-goo of textual arenas that seek to organise (perhaps, but who can be sure?), to:

          […] fuck the organic exactitude
of the model! Unless, too, Rhyme is made from
oil, fabric, paper, enamel, pencil & synthetic
polymer paint with necktie, fuck it as well!
& fuck gently the sordid sorrow of fractional
& promised gifts, diversion to scroll, the
establishment of incomplete unity would like
its finked deproductions back […]

Touring and Touretting its way across a tableau of recognisable things, this is the Berrigan-droid’s ‘survival as flatness’, where one line after the next means (necessarily?) that it is poetry we are reading and where incoherence is the highest aesthetic value. As per Berrigan: ‘bon / voyage metaphysics!’ File under Anthrocidophilia or Deathstar poetics.

The Complete Pocketbook of Swoon by Ann Vickery

Ann Vickery’s The Complete Pocketbook of Swoon hits an entirely different timbre, the poet taking up a cerebral stance in poems ticking like bombs. The title surely doffs toward Bernstein’s ‘The Klupzy Girl’, in which:

Poetry is like a swoon, but with this difference:
it brings you to your senses)

Instead of bombs, then, these texts are perhaps a kind of Triage. Vickery tells us in the first three lines of the book how:

This is just fun-size confectionary,
pet-name or a pose generator, to palliate
the impracticalities of play

Yet these texts are neither minor nor mere confections; in the first, ‘Swoon in Miniature; or, The Youth’s Pleasing Instructor’, Vickery’s encompassing gaze lights upon the spectres of Heidegger, Shakespeare, Bowie and a host of others; in this poem-as-Wunderkammer, the critique seems anti-yob and voicing revolt, an enduring shriek of concern for what we may have become: psychically anorexic but feasting nonetheless on ‘Digestible elements of a dickybird world’. Vickery’s fractious, rebarbative style is always a sharp read:

Wind-up lips at the fountain of youth,
standing pixelated in the Radiant Light
spray. I claim my five minutes
of hegemony, you slightly more.
Tear-streaked, we wander through
Ovid, deep culture on your shoulder.
Art’s shade to cast one more version.
To build from hazelnuts a small estate,
A measure lined with elaboration

The Complete Pocketbook of Swoon is an intertextual mosaic of glinting remnants from across canons; Vickery has sampled and remixed from tropes, dictions, genres, to create a Steinian (‘a mirror is a mirror is’) or perhaps Frankensteinian suite of texts in which affect, or vignettes thereof, seems largely abandoned in favour of traced contours of an ‘endless short circuited ghosting’ of spectacles. What seems clearest is that Vickery is not interested in taking readers prisoner with totalised accounts of individual experience; just as ‘Affection never did find a home where it wanted to stay’, these non-lyrical texts flare up as if ‘goosebumps on the earth’s curved hide’. Vickery weirdly hits all the high-notes of abjection; this poet-as-reader or reader-as-poet seems to scorn lyric traditions (truth, beauty, etc) as clichés, as nothing less than master narratives promulgated by regimes. Instead, this is a book floodlit with zeitgeistful attenuations of a changing world; its style both tracks and promotes the shift.

Gertrude’s Attic by Jaimie Gusman

Like Maged Zaher’s book, Gertrude’s Attic is divided into three parts, each part thematically organised around the simple things one might locate in an attic (Heirlooms, Scraps of Lace, Drawings). In these estrangements, Jaimie Gusman employs an openly Steinian style (and indeed a sampling of Stein’s language) to deliver glidings and gildings, associative and often hilarious near-narratives:

Goshdarn animal spikes.
Goddamn apple jam.
I should have used these stilettos
for other thoughts besides murder, sexual encounters, the regime.
I miss all things even though they are simply things.

The zaniness here is mirthful: ‘Gurgle the wings, knife the flower. / A stubborn bloom sprouts like a veil’, Gusman writes, lines swarming with image-as-automata and carefully groomed non sequitur. There is much to this work that seems whimsical, dream-like, perhaps allegorical: a narrator drapes a ponytail (someone else’s) ‘over my shoulder / in the shower / like a gorgeous / elephant trunk’; a couple adopt a dozen baby watermelons; an altar hosts its bride-swallowing groom; and writers name birds after sexual positions – ‘The Snowy Plover, the Common Moorhen, the Pomarine Jaeger Dark Morph’. Gusman’s charm-filled paraphernalia are apolitical enchantments: amid the fizzing frisson of mundane interconnection, here is a poet celebrating their sensorily overloaded mind amid the patterns, textures, and shapes of sundry objects.

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