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tearing the rag off the bush again
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Dave Brinks, The Caveat Onus: Book Two, Lavender Ink, 2007
by Jan Edwards

This is the second installment in the Caveat Onus trilogy, is first a structural work of art; without its form, it would be too disconnected from its audience and would mean little for both the reader and the poet, for this collection of poems is as much a journey for Brinks as for his readers. The poems embody a mental journey for the author during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and carefully, though somewhat confusingly, bring the reader along on the exploration. Each poem, or meditation, in The Caveat Onus: Book Two consists of thirteen lines constructed as two hexagrams, with one middle line serving, as Brinks says, as “the center of a sphere, with a line moving through that point in space, in opposite directions.” Moreover, the meditations are sonnegrams, in which the first and last lines, second and second to last lines, third and third to last lines, and so on, correspond and move inward, until reaching the middle line, which is the seventh, the axis of the poem. The seventh line can also begin the poem, from which the lines would move outward in the same corresponding pattern.

This pattern works through the four sections of the book, and these axes in the poetry create a movement in and among the poems and bring a surrealistic quality to the work as readers move with Brinks through memory and discovery. There is finally an axis for the whole book; Brinks refers to this most important axis as a vanishing point, or the point on a physical plane where everything disappears. This vanishing point is in the fourth section of the book and is the convergence of the poet’s world and the reader’s ability to understand it, in that a need for the concrete gives way to the arena of the mind.

One does not have to read the notes on the text in order to realize that there is something often unnerving and different happening in the book, and one may neither grasp nor enjoy the book upon an initial sitting with it; these sentiments of the reader most likely stem from a misunderstanding of the structure and point of Brinks’ work. Thus, reading The Caveat Onus: Book Two is continually frustrating. The language alienates the reader, in that the images seem to be part of the poet’s memory and are not yet fleshed out enough for the reader to understand or explore. A reader senses the poetry more than connects with it; a reader knows that the poems must be more than disconnected remembrances and observances or random images gathered from clips of the poet’s experience, but it is difficult to provide an explanation for this feeling that something bigger is happening on the pages of the book. This, of course, is a result of the structural intricacies, which cause a general frustration with the reading; because of the movement of the work, there seems to be no point at which the reader can grip onto the words, to become a part of the author’s pictures and seeming abstractions. Yet page after page the reader’s feeling that the poems are supposed to both convey to and create in the reader the author’s deep feelings grows stronger; at the same time, the reader realizes that the problem with the images is not that they are not full enough, but that they seem to be too much a part of the poet’s world, which does not quite feel real. The poems, both individually and as a collection, seem to be the essence of a memory, which one can explain but in which one can never totally include another person. Yet the poet moves so fluidly through the work that it must be real enough to be understood; this further leaves the reader with the feeling that there is no place for an outsider in this work.

Just when the frustration reaches its peak, and when the reader feels the past hour has been wasted trying to understand something which has no meaning to anyone but the poet, it happens: in the last of the four sections of the book, Brinks begins taking lines and images from earlier poems and creating new poems with them. In these restructured pieces, the images have not changed; they retain the same essence of a memory that characterizes the book. Yet they come together full circle; in just a handful of poems, the feelings of frustration disappear as the reader somehow comes to share in the memories and the poems with the poet. It is as if writing these clips of experience and having someone read them is the only way Brinks could ever convey what the poems mean to him. In this way The Caveat Onus: Book Two becomes a shared experience; reading Brinks’ thoughts and memories makes them part of the reader as well, and when the images come back together in the last section, an understanding comes with them. Possibly after the reading of the notes on the text, a reader not only feels but finally sees how the symmetry and patterns in the work have converged both on the page and in the mind.

A look at meditation ninety-eight, the poem Brinks describes as the vanishing point, exemplifies the fluid yet symmetrical style that is both the beauty and the challenge in this work; this poem also embodies the journey on which Brinks has gone and taken his readers:

the caveat on us 1

is a great tear in the dreamwork

forced upon the mind

like a terrible sound

that only compares with silence

where everything belongs to water

and whose sadnesses have no equal or worse 7

O Memory let these creatures stir

snap the teeth of your dragon’s snout

send forgetfulness to repair their suffering

the song of the hawk

knows no boundaries

between heaven and earth 13


The readers have seen most of these lines before, but in this poem they come together in a new way. As mentioned before, the first and last lines, the second and second to last lines, and so forth, are symmetrical, centered around the axis of the poem, the seventh line. If one starts at the poem’s axis and works out, one sees how Brinks’ feelings of sadness, which throughout the book have been evident to readers, stem from water, the hurricane, and the memories surrounding it. Brinks then speaks of the pain of the silenced city, its suffering people, and the plea to forget in order to repair what happened. Finally, the reader’s memory of Brinks’ story meets Brinks’ own memory, and the boundless capabilities of memory exist in the “tear in the dreamwork,” the space “between heaven and earth” where there is no need for concrete explanations. For the reader’s and Brinks’ memories and emotions have converged; the mind, not reality, is the haven of this story.




Sarduy and Eggers

by Beatriz Hausner

Cobra and Maitreya, by Severo Sarduy, Translated by Suzanne Jill Levine. Dalkey Archive Press
What is the What, by Dave Eggers, McSweeney's Publishing

In Cobra, by Severo Sarduy, the main character is called, well, Cobra. He may be a transvestite, or maybe transgender[ed], or neither, but one thing seems almost certain: he/she/it lives in Amsterdam. Cobra seems to have a foot that is mechanical, though nothing is certain.

Herzog's Green Cobra, only now being released in North America, features Klaus Kinski, obviously, playing a terribly insane, oversexed, white master among South Americans and Africans.

And, just now, into my study has walked a human-size raccoon. He greets me and seems kind, despite the threatening teeth. I welcome him, mostly because he will provide warmth for the next few hours. It remains to be seen how long he can stay seated in the uncomfortable wicker chair I have set in the corner, the one covered in the elegant Oaxaca weaving, meant to be worn as a skirt by women in the Mixtec region. His breathing is distracting, perhaps because, as he has just informed me, he is suffering from an uneven heartbeat, wrought, as it is, by the insertion of an extraneous valve into one of the chambers of his heart. I tell him that these procedures are quite common nowadays. He seems tired, worn out. Perhaps the raccoon is simply echoing my own state of mind. Perhaps not. It's hard to say.

*

David Egger’s What is the What, could be considered one, if not the greatest contemporary expression of our condition as nomads. Perhaps, it is the journey itself which sums up our existence, condemned as we are to wander, sometimes in an apocalyptic world, other times, in a world ruled by magic and chance. Regardless, the journey is the what, and it defines us.

Raccoon has risen from the chair and is enveloping me in his furry presence. The mechanical fingers which finish his right arm are touching my centre now, the place where my legs meet the chair I am sitting on. I feel a quiver and with it, the certainty that I may not be dying inside. He is cruel in the manner of his distance, obsessively building walls between us, so that the journey to his more southern location often feels daunting, almost impossible; so many are the hurdles I will have to leap over to reach him. I may never get there, what with the eye that watches from the window constantly delaying the train that crosses these nights. I know that I am the crystallized flower between the sharp teeth of this animal. Such are my thoughts as I sign off on this day’s events.


Jake Berry, Dave Brinks, Durriel Harris, Tom Mandel & more

by Hank Lazer

Jake Berry, Brambu Drezi, Station Hill Press, 2006

Jake Berry, reclusive poet, songwriter, musician, and visual artist of Florence, Alabama, has worked for two decades on Brambu Drezi. The new Station Hill edition presents the first three volumes of Brambu Drezi. (Berry has begun work on a video-based fourth volume.) Brambu Drezi is an overwhelming reading experience – a generative site for colliding mythologies, perspectives, culture, visions, decompositions, and recyclings, complete with superb drawings by Berry – not illustrations, but drawings that are inextricably part of the journey, part of the ciphering and deciphering. The work moves from a kind of talking in tongues to the most lyrical of moments, from mythic encounters to mundane cinematic scenes. With Berry as medium – the poet as the site or gathering point for the text – we are given a work that rewards reading and re-reading. To learn more about Berry’s varied work, go to http://9thstlab.blogspot.com

Dave Brinks, Caveat Onus: Book One: Meditations One Thru Fifty-Two, Lavender Ink, 2006

Bar owner, activist, poet, and community leader, Dave Brinks has written a remarkable four-book cycle, The Caveat Onus, in a surreal, visionary mode in the peculiar world that is post-Katrina New Orleans. Written figured re-configured – hallucination dream nightmare meditation – balm petition judgment & redemption, Dave Brinks’ Caveat Onus arrives in the post-Katrina post-apocalyptic New Orleans tragedy called by the government a “recovery.” Brinks, though, locates a source: “a voice speaks to you/ from oblivion/ whose mouths are zero-shaped/ and all in the key of blue.” From this ancient tune, Brinks makes use, as poetry must, of all available wisdom and engages in the difficult discipline of considered attention so that “out of this dead city/ you carved yourself free and awoke.” In a city where shortly after Katrina “grey line passengers/ are paying $35 to see the destruction,” Brinks believes “this slender hour comes forward/ to see what can be salvaged.” Caveat Onus comes forward to help show us a way onward for a city and a nation in peril.

Duriel Harris, Drag, Elixir Press, 2003

Musician, scholar, singer, sound-artist, Duriel Harris has written an amazing first book. As Sterling Plumpp tells it (correctly!), “Drag is a twenty-first century literary text emerging out of the prism of race, gender, and social class. It is eloquently postmodern funk and intimately original.” Recently, I had the pleasure of hearing Duriel read/perform, and I immediately thought, hallelujah, what bold adventurous funky informed rich poetry. In this her first collection of poetry, Duriel Harris lays claim to the forward movement (an informed forward movement) of works such as Harryette Mullen’s Muse & Drudge. Duriel Harris’s work is as adventurous on the page as it is musically and in performance: “Backwater, yeah, but I ain’t wet, so misters, I ain’t studin’ you:/ Don’t need your blessed doctrine to tell me what to write and when./ Behold, God made me funky. There ain’t nothin’ I can’t do.” Indeed. She and Tracie Morris are cutting us a new rug.

Tom Mandel, To the Cognoscenti, Atelos, 2007

A remarkable book in three parts: a long poem sequence “To the Cognoscenti,” a selection of “First Poems,” and “Cheshbon ha-nefesh,” a series of poems that are part of an assigned inventory of the poet’s soul. Mandel is an oddity – perhaps an acquired taste, like a complex red wine. A key figure in the early days of Language poetry (when Mandel lived in the Bay Area), he has since charted a thoroughly independent course as a successful businessman (as a consultant, marketing executive, and entrepreneur). Mandel has considerable intellectual resources (having studied many years ago at the University of Chicago with Hannah Arendt and Saul Bellow), and as a poet he is not trying to please anyone (but himself and what he perceives to be the just demands of poetry), and he is not hustling the Po Biz circuits. Instead, he is producing a measured, serious, deeply thoughtful poetry – perhaps not something that will appeal to younger readers. I find his thinking and his questioning, his candor and his forthright consideration of what is essential to be inspiring and deeply engaging: “You know I wonder sometimes can I/ love this life that turns my soul/ around and around, screwing it/ straight down into the earth/ if this not poetry – then what?/ if it becomes poetry again – then what?”

Glenn Mott, Analects, Chax Press, 2007

Analects
is a remarkable first book by a wonderfully independent, smart poet, Glenn Mott. The book emerges from Mott’s time in China during the boom of the early and mid-1990s: “In the years I was there the economy of Shanghai grew 19%.” It is, quite clearly, not a typically American book of poetry, i.e., it is not predominantly about me and my feelings. It is a book deeply involved with asking how one does find a place in the world – that respects and observes and analyzes the workings of that world. As a book of poems, Analects puts the form of the poem itself into question, seeking to learn from sources as diverse as Thoreau, Pound, and Confucius. Mott’s ambition is to know, see, and appreciate the world around him with clarity: “There must be a word for/ whelmed –/ to appreciate something the exact amount.” As such, this is a book that George Oppen, perhaps the greatest poet of clarity, would have admired.

Stephen Vincent, Walking Theory, Junction Press, 2007

What better measure for poetry, what better metric, what better rhythm and attention to time and place, what more reliable foot possible than poems built upon walks. Routes of the familiar re-viewed and re-incarnated. Place become word. A life lived walking in San Francisco, a poetry compassionate and independent, the scene as seen: “STEAL BACK YOUR LIFE / stenciled in big black letters on the sidewalk.” At times elegiac – for the dead in Iraq, for the poet’s father, for friends – at times celebratory through a kind of slowly emerging ecstasy even in the face of a painfully demanding city: “the heart/ let loose among buildings without trees,/ the lobbies of the dead, people who lean/ variously to struggle with reason against/ an architecture born deadly.” So “what can the poem do, walking, step-by-step: witness, suffer, hope.”



Hunter S., Ed Sanders, Bukowski & Missy Suicide

by Christian Prozak

Kingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child in the
Final Days of the American Century
by Hunter S. Thompson
Simon & Schuster

though vainglorious and
nascent of old gonzód hat
Kingdom is most smoking nug
of nitrobiased journalcy
cured w/ crystal fiction
to aggravate the Hogs of War
in sad shadow of
yr Michael Moore

——but impotent in fury? ie:

"Let's face it — the yo-yo president of the U.S.A. knows nothing. He is a dunce. He does what he is told to do — says what he is told to say — poses the way he is told to pose. He is a Fool.... This is not the time to have a bogus rich kid in charge of the White House.... he wantonly and stupidly endorses mass murder of a logical plan to make sure we are still Number One — he is a Jackass by definition — a loud and meaningless animal with no functional intelligence and no balls.... Who are these swine? These flag-sucking half-wits who get fleeced and fooled by stupid little rich kids like George Bush?
They are the same ones who wanted to have Muhammad Ali locked up for refusing to kill gooks. They speak for all that is cruel and stupid and vicious in the American character. They are the racists and hate mongers among us — they are the Ku Klux Klan. I piss down the throats of these Nazis.
And I am too old to worry about whether they like it or not. Fuck them."

Lo, our friendly neighborhood dopefiend
has spun another narco-coil
twined in clever curlitales
of sundry plots converged in theme
that as of yet no critics know
what to make of bombast but
more of ye olde same

Cockmuffins!
This is a different specimen
sophisticated in suspense
paced with cops and guns and Depp
gelling to the namedrop end

avec a secret stitch
of aggressions in transgression
in face of dick and bush
and all their slimy
scandaleezas

nevermind the mad doc's
bullshit self vindication re:
fatporn stargone wild

what's pisspants hilarious is
booze-fueled roadkill pig-limo visions
of Clarence Thomas humping whores
in Elko lustrush of
most quintessential knee-slap
Amlit overkill this
pseudonym has ever seen
blast ratbastards
in the ass

Ho ho! Bravo!
Encore Maestro!
War makes art
worth a shit.


America: A History in Verse
Vol. 3, 1962-1970

by Edward Sanders
Black Sparrow Books

Aye the I
in the eye
of once Fugly troubabard
who après l'evidence
of JFK chiggerism
poses

"Is it not proper to think that military leaders
who would propose
domestic terror
could also kill a president
or fashion a patsy?"

then all that ML Kingful marching
lynching bugging baiting beating
in red white & blue blood of

sacrificial Camelot lambs
(whom most luminous is Ted!)
blazing amazing scathing faces
thugslugging RatherDan
in Panthered past of
Mansonland

where "The Spirit of Napalm...
& his bone-pal
Scythe Man the Lurker"
spankingly contrasts
"the fluffy... condemnation
of a writer... famous for his breathy,
envious book on... Kesey"

adding

"You could see Mr. Wolfe in 1827
snickering at the paint-stained clothing of William Blake
(and his egalitarian politics)
after... snickery visit"

till Four Dead in Ohio
and flowervisions in the gun

as Sanders goes and goes and goes
toward volume 4 of Nixon Ford
Carter Disco Iran-Contra
Reaganation Oblivion

making a new Maximus
what doesn't condescend.


Slouching Toward Nirvana: New Poems

by Charles Bukowski
HarperCollins

Finally! A dead-Bukowski afterbook
that doesn't suck
posthumous butt

poetry inspired by
"my cats, my wife,/the shape of my coat
thrown over a chair, the weeping of the planet...
the flight of the hummingbird and"

the fact that it's
so easy to die
long before the fact
of it

so the bird has now
busted out the heavy stuff:

"how close we all are
to being nothing
most of the
time

and
for some of us
nothing
all of the
time"

since "we are hardly ever
as strong/as that which we
create" and

"most poets are just big
tit-suckers:
accepting readings
taking university chairs
praying for tenure
writing books on poetic
technique and
giving lectures"

aka

"those chattering bitching
ninnies
who are so quick to insist...
that I am
not one of
them"

plus plenty of advice
for those who can't:

"read this to your class in contemporary
literature and tell them how easy it
is.

then send those children out to walk
the asphalt like the rest
of us"

meanwhile

"some are good at
cleaning the shit stains
out of the toilet;
others at
polishing the mirror
of their own vanity;
many are expert
at composing inoffensive
verse
or
sucking dick.

but while the drippings from
their thin minds
spill from their tongue

I'll continue to
type"

the unBukowski:

"mental charutos pimentel charutos
pimentel charuto entel charutos pimentel charutos
pimen..."

Say What? No wonder this voice
was wisely left for
surreal existential end of

"flowers floating on the lake.
New Jersey dogs in thrall...
do abandoned factories ever
scream at mid-
night?
I am warming up now as
bottle caps explode in my
brain.
I am giving off smoke.
I am really smoking now.
I am an Easter egg.
I am a paper clip....

as the world reaches
its final foolish conclusion
I realize that
nothing has been learned"

and as the "powers-that-be
persist/in tolerating
shit"
Bukowski plays
the "shuck and jive"
like horses at the track
a "pure folly to get slick about"
cuz ultimately
(he he he)
poetry's
"a lie."


Suicide Girls
by Missy Suicide
Feral House, L.A.
http://suicidegirls.com


This is a glossy sexy photobook
of saucy naked nudie Goths and
Gen Y hotties but

also a statement
of a shaven
piercéd
generation
tattooed Betty Booply

not nipple porn for wanking wetly
(though you could)
but the stuff of coffee
table yakage

ahhhhh sweet sassy lasses
how we love your boobs and asses
your bad grrrrl grins
and vixen visions

but next time leave yr poetry
at home.
 
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