BLAST FROM THE PAST---- A REVIEW OF THE ANTI-MENSCH ANTHOLOGIES
By One of the Usual Suspects, Joe Roarty
"The two hundred copies that it had sold must all have vanished into bottom drawers
or trunks or waste baskets, except for one or two still living anachronistic copies…
which would be fed, housed and worshipped by their owners like a totem or a Siamese cat….but there must have been literally thousands of one issue little magazines in the last fifteen years in America which were still being kept alive, still being fed readers by guardians…--the one or two surviving copies still yowling hopelessly from somebody's kitchen." --Jack Spicer
"(o yeah, you were in a band, who wasn't…" With these words from "OH SWEET, An Elegy for Sterling Morrison," Monica Kendrick encapsulates much of the spirit behind THE ANTI-MENSCH ANTHOLOGIES I & II. Before the garage band, there was the "little magazine," storied receptacle for ambition, idealism, genius, and, well, less than genius, "the best, the worst, and the indifferent," in Gregorio Gomez' phrase. THE ANTI-MENSCH in its brief (one could almost say meteoric, if it were not so melodramatic) career, two issues appearing in May 1996 and January 1997, under the editorship of the "wünderkind" Lee Kitzis, the Oak Park Rimbaud, occupies a place above the norm. The discontented, the dispeptic, and the disillusioned all found a place in Kitzis' vision of a "unique collection of diverse literature by talented poets whose writing varies in both form and style."
One thing most of this poetry does share is the lyric mode. There are songs ruled by the heart, in which the head is restricted to a passing reflection. This is aptly summed up again, by Ms. Kendrick in "Revelation on Wood, pt. II":
IT IS BETTER TO BE A MARTYR FOR LOVE
THAN TO DIE IN THE END, ANYWAY, ALONE
Her contributions concern loss, both personal and social, expressed in lines of a generally consistent, though tangled, syntax. The exception being "Rosie," where grief leads to anger and fragmentation.
Lawrence Tyler's "Poem for Larry Goldberg" also uses the sentence to produce lines as indelible as a burnished coin:
"Now I can pass up
A bum, a beggar, or a thief
But a dog eating a can
Is too much
Dan Levi's "A BAD TRIP ON PLASTIC ACID," as one might expect, relies more on the phrase, as in:
Dog chains lacing purple dyed hair
Armani suit suede lipstick glare
Similarly, Charles Bernstein's poetry appears on the page like colored rocks or an imaginary stamp collection. Based on disjunction, imagistic, his poems collide against, and within, one another, a pinball machine of the mind, as in "Splatsville" where:
Bums on the street
living on edge
steps away from the ledge
once and for all
or in this example of "meet cute":
I grinned at her. She grinned back
or in this celebrity encounter:
thrown from the wreck
under the bridge of fire
buddy holly's intestines
went flying through my hair
On a personal note, this poem is immeasurably enhanced by the knowledge that Charles is bald.
Effie Mihopoulos, in "This One Is For Gertrude Stein" and "A Ted Berrigan Poem," draws inspiration from these two masters of the post-modern:
I am writing today in this way for gertrude
all these things I have to say and no way to say them
except gertrude's way…
It may be said that anyone writing "in this way" is writing "for Gertrude."
But this ANTI-MENSCH is a coat of many colors, so it is no surprise to come upon Daniel Cleary. I say this as if I came upon him personally, wedged between the pages—but that is the effect of his poetry. He exemplifies that paradox whereby the most natural and realistic is wedded to artifice and the impossible in "The Green Dress":
It was the green of all the greens
It's possible to see
What might be called the perfect green
In green simplicity.
What Dan accomplishes with meter and rhyme, Larry Winfield essays in free verse. A quintessential Chicago poet, populist, democratic, yet aware of the con, he is a poet whose poems use breath as measure as in "63rd St.":
when it rains in short fits
the stink rises
and the children call it air.
they say it tastes sweet.
What is true for "63rd St." is true for many others. A dreadlocked Nelson Algren, his muse is the city.
Perhaps the most exotic of the ANTI-MENSCH's plumes are the works of Rose Virgo and Sharkmeat Blue, who apparently got lost on their way to Boulder, Colorado's Jack Kerouac School for Disembodied Poetics. Their poems embody the post-beat aesthetic so assiduously cultivated in those environs.
At this point I think you get the idea, and I would add that the selections by Mars and Monsieurs Vittorio Carli, Greg Gillam, Frank Varela, Kris Darlington, Dave Gecic, Johnny Masuilewicz, Sam Blechman, and last but certainly not least editorial "wüderkind" Lee Kitzis, are—and I mean this—equally rewarding. Someone (not me) could easily write a whole other review dealing sole with the poetry of the above-mentioned people.
I would like to end with a section from a poem by Frank Bonomo, "Traffic":
We tried our best to break the dull howling with our shouts but after guitar and harmonica became silent we had only traffic in our skittish slumbers traffic in our hazy thoughts
I looked across the miles, not finding my path I was lost in cloud-gazing, and that petroleum sound wove its trickiness into my uneasiness
the neverending traffic of my life
Murdered in the spring of 1998, it is difficult to read these lines, and to write about them. It is sometimes said that poetry, that art, defeat death, live beyond the grave. Rather, poetry is death's truest companion, who knows it best, its eternal herald, howlin' like a cat in the dark.
Joe Roarty Reviews Thax Douglas' Tragic Faggot Syndrome
Dad was not the muscling grinding boot of hatred, smothering
in the grasshopper joy of his fascism
No, that would take some intelligence.
Dad was the heavy concrete pillar from the birdbath of
smuggled onto this planet from the Garden of All things,
fallen upon my neck, paralyzing me…
Love is one thing, Respect another…
Lay off, Dad
12/18/89 UIC Hospital
With this poem, Thax Douglas begins "Tragic Faggot Syndrome," and with "the grasshopper joy of his fascism" we encounter the first of those mutated images that appear throughout the book like:
creations in the rich onion soup
of bloating rottenness that imitates
their construction of a cathedral
for just a few glorious days--
THE ANCIENT GREEKS
1/12/00 Lounge Ax
Don't worry. Mom gets hers too.
Following "Dad" are seven prose poems, probing the psyche, in a fairly traditional, albeit extreme, way, of an individual or individuals, imaginary or real, suffering, roughly, from "Tragic Faggotry." It is a cornucopia, or abattoir, of reflections which at one point appears to reach an apotheosis in the following passage:
Because what I really want is to be made entirely of rubber, 100% through and through, a perfect product. I wouldn't have to spend so much time being beautiful — taking showers every day and rubbing this crap in my skin so I'll glow…this way I wouldn't have intestines and kidneys and all those other various entrails and organs put together to form the puzzle of who I am, just a bunch of chunks of rubber placed inside an iron maiden-type mold and heated up until the chunks melted and flowed together to form one invariable Thax Douglas, made of 100% grade-A-government-inspected American rubber, and my cock would proudly unfurl like a flag and I could fuck you with confidence because I'd know exactly who I was.
A little further on, the poem "Mausoleum," beginning:
Are we doomed to relive our
bad memories again and again?
Or is death no longer a possibility?/
6/7/90, 6:00-6:30 am
seems to signal a kind of exhaustion.
At this point, with the next poem "A Negligee For Jacqui Wolk," the poet breaks through into a new poetic. From inward to outward, from obsession to observation. The furies of the ego are harnessed, in the poem, and the book seems to start again, careening through a transformed world. A dialectic ensues between "a quilt stitched with teeth." And the poet's perception.
the stars are ignoring
the shining green squares--
the bismark of your eye will
jump across and do trampoline jumps
on the black quilt of the night
the two bones over your kneecap
are staring at me, Jacqui!
or maybe because
There is still room for green off the edge of this poem
NEGLIGEE FOR JACQUI WOLK
11/24/90 Jacqui's apartment
"NEGLIGEE FOR JAQUI WOLK" is the first of the "portrait poems" that comprise the rest of the book. These poems are named after individuals or musical groups (a note at the end of the book informs the reader that "If you're interested in having a poem with your or your band's name as the title written for you, please let Thax know at email@example.com). By themselves, utterly skewed envisionments of, or environments for, something having to do with, presumably, the subject; together, they create the effect of a twisting matrix of sound, image, and place, whether at Norwood Restaurant "Home of Wonderful Food" or "Betsy Creel's apartment." Dedicatees range from local filmmaker Tom Palazzolo to FIVE MILE CEILING, a band I believe I encountered one late night at Estelle's, to Peter Fenton Valentine, who I know of neither in name or actuality. It is odd to think of alien archeologists, millennia hence, coming upon TRAGIC FAGGOT SYNDROME in the rubble of a vanished Chicago, and enshrining it in a Martian Smithsonian as a document of the last 10 years of the 20th century in a large Terran city.
TRAGIC FAGGOT SYNDROME occupies a time and place resolutely its own, yet redolent of the facts of the world it is in, for while
an image can turn a
dead bug into a thought
only a smell can make it
7/16/91 Rainbo Club
The same logic that
leads one to speculate on the theology of love--
is love a lucky accident or is it prayed-for —- my theory is, it's the luck-
iest nail in
LIFE WITHOUT BREATH
10/18/94 Peter's Restaurant
for John Matthews
TRAGIC FAGGOT SYNDROME is a grace for our own fin de siecle, and I feel lucky to have experienced its provocative and brilliant self.
DREAM A LITTLE DREAM OF ME
THE DEMENTED KEWPIE DOLL'S MANIFESTO, By Kate Cullan, $5
Reviewed by Joe Roarty
Many and many a year ago in a kingdom by the sea, a college professor named Yvor Winters wrote an essay entitled "Can Professor X Mean What He Says" in which he revealed that modern poetry had been hijacked by paranoid schizophrenics. His chief evidence for this was Hart Crane, whose gigantic masterpiece "The Bridge," while generally regarded on the whole as a classic case of way too much and yet not enough, was, paradoxically, thought to contain some of the finest passages of lyric poetry ever written by, well, anyone. For Winter, this only made things worse. If Crane was just another guy taking a header into the whirling propeller blades of a Caribbean cruise liner, no great harm done. But the fact that this same fellow was possessed of poetic genius and, even, a truly visionary insight into the nature of contemporary civilization (the really roaring 20's) was one big fucking toke over the line. Winter spends most of the essay decrying the fact that the better Crane writes, the crazier he is.
This established a pattern in American letters. Poet descends to new level of madness, self pity, despair, what-have-you; college professor responds with smirk, outrage, concern, etc.
Fast forward to Kate Cullan's THE DEMETED KEWPIE DOLL'S MANIFESTO. Here, the American mind is not only closed, it is burned down, plowed under, and sewn with salt. What remains is a truly blasted wasteland of dysfunction, drugs to treat dysfunction, self loathing, empty sex, more drugs, and delirious oblivion.
"But in that sleep of death, what dreams may come?"
Janis Joplin chasing Mozart with a cattle prod as ugly people fuck with bags over their heads while Captain von Trapp tells Maria: "I could get drunk and horny enough to have sex with you every third Tuesday." What if Maria introduced the von Trapp children to cocaine and heroine? (Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein III become Lou Reed and John Cale?) Am I human or am I a clone? (And what would the difference, precisely, be?) The air is thick with fallout (but not as thick as the cigarette smoke in the backroom at Joy Blue). If it weren't for the Catholic Church, I would have ended up on a jizz towell somewhere…A twisted princess basking in her thereness (Heidegger's angel dust of lust)
The voice of widsom fucked raw
But not so drunk I puke
No man will love you if you puke.
The above is merely the tip of the iceberg of the roiling cacophony that is THE DEMENTED KEWPIE DOLL'S MANIFESTO. As for more formal concerns, while these are not foremost in the poet's mind, the crush of the howling obsession does oddly fuse into moments of rhythmic "love and fear."
I hate her because she's beautiful
I hate myself because I'm ugly
I hate you for deciding this
I hate God for not making us all blind drones
In days of old poets labored
over the breathing pause between
the third and fourth iamb
of a pentameter line.
But these are simpler times.
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Note: Beat poet Joe Roarty puts his critic's eye on The Anti Mensch Anthologies, Thax Douglas and Kate Cullan.