Disruptive Juxtaposition

Friday, May 05, 2006

Emotion 98.6

This is the track # of Mylo's Destroy Rock and Roll which you should have on repeat if you want to feel like making progress on whatever creative buns you have in the oven. And by buns, I mean poems or stories or paintings or articles, or possibly yeast-based buns. Just to clarify.


This'll have to be short because I have aspirations of novel-related progress tonight, and this shouldn't be considered a full review, but I spent a good part of my afternoon reading Here, Bullet, a collection of poems by Brian Turner, who is an alum of my creative writing program. Quickly, Here, Bullet's poems derive from poet Turner's time in Iraq during the ongoing U.S. presence there. They are, needless to say, rooted in the soldier's experience.

By and large, I applaud these two poems, but too many of the volume's other poems seem to hew to straight reportage. In this last poem, "Caravan," there is a stronger element of the confrontational element implicit in this act of witness and presentation, what with the body parts of the dead shipped to the White House. But more often than not, there's too little of this confrontational spirit. That doesn't mean that these poems should have in them more finger-wagging at this wayward administration, or at that bloodthirsty aspect we've all got in us. Rather, these poems present themselves as accounts of events - traumatic, terrible, nightmarish events - but still just accounts, and little more. You know what they're like? They're like ledgers of figures and names and numbers; they're sketched out, granted, in orderly columns and rows. But there's no analyst teasing out what these figures might add up to and mean.

I don't discuss this here and now as a means of indicting these poems for what they might accomplish or fail to accomplish. I discuss the matter instead as a way to question the role of such contemporary artistic production. Let's cite Auden, of course, on the ol' "poetry makes nothing happen" notion. This poetry may not mean to make anything happen; in fact I think that it seeks only to represent, in terms that are cutting and stark, what has happened. Oftentimes I would finish reading a poem in this volume and feel affected by what had happened in its lines, but my feeling was just as often kindred to the feeling I have when I read effective coverage of Iraq or Darfur or any other world hotspot: it may've been a sensation of having been newly informed, saddened, and certainly moved... but lacking from the experience of reading such coverage - and, I'm sorry to say, these poems - is a sensation of enlightenment. The news tells you what happened. So do these poems. I was looking for these poems to put some sort of challenge to me: they didn't.

What kind of challenge am I in the market for when I read me some poems - regardless of how concerned they are with contemporary events? That's a great question. My best answer isn't very complex: I'm in the market to be asked to think about something in a new way. I realize that that statement is so vague as to be wholly meaningful, and it certainly amounts to nothing like a poetics. But to boil it down: a poet's got to yoke together items - images, ideas, ideologies - in such a way as to imply a new image, a new idea, a new ideology. Otherwise one is merely describing an event with the appropriate amts. of beauty, love, fright, or horror. And one has sufficient quantities of those elsewhere.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Feels sorta familiar

Not like me at all.