Voyd of Course

"It's like the Onion, only skinnier!" --Milton Swift "Still worth the price of the paper it's not printed on." --Felicia DuBois "The unspeakable, spoken." --Malin Wuptke "More interesting than computer solitaire, though perhaps not so effective a distraction from the void." --Harlan J. Rippington "Satire today, history tomorrow." --Steven Wallace

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Location: Santa Fe, NM, United States

In 1966, I wrote a fake newspaper article under the headline "JACK CASS SETS WORLD SHOWERING RECORD." Mr. Yohans, my 9th grade English teacher, liked it so well that he read it aloud--to much not-quite-suppressed giggling, at the sound of which, Mr Yohans said, "What? What? Did I miss something here?" I spent the rest of the afternoon in Principal Leon Duff's outer office. When Mr. Duff, who was a busy man, decided he didn't have time to see me, his secretary sent me back to the classroom, where I was greeted like McMurphy returning from solitary. Emboldened by my de facto exoneration, my friends began work on their own fake news stories. I remember a spate of Russian names in the stories, including "Ivan Kutchikokoff" and "Ivan Jerkinov." Needless to say, our newly suspicious teacher sent both of my friends to Mr. Duff's office, where they were not as bureaucratically blessed as I had been. They sat detention for a week. This I took as a lesson in subtlety--and in how to start a commotion and slip from the room before the law comes down.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Poezak: A Manifesto, by Alice Van de Wettering

 Poetry has been afflicted with meaning for too long. 

Certainly, there have been stabs at meaninglessness—dada, language poetry, flarf—but without a sustaining podium, without a venue, these movements have flared and died like matches struck and cupped in the general dark of meaningfulness. But the podium has been awaiting us, brightly lit and stark. The elevators, supermarkets, and telephones-on-hold have been longing for our words to soothe and cajole just beneath the consciousness--and then evaporate like hand disinfectant. The venues have been lonely without us. They are calling out for a muttered voice, a semblance of speech that is not speech, an overheard tonal flow of language that does not chomp down on a story or theme and hold on, but one that drifts, that touches wordly things lightly and moves on, that hints at emotion but does not deliver it kicking and squirming, that employs the language of ideas but does not insist on a full induction into the detailed argument. It is time American poets answered the call. It is time American poets produced sonic texts, well-voiced, well-sounded, but without the dynamics of plot and theme, poems that can deliver a tone in a one floor hop from copier to office or a long, smooth ride of 50 floors from Lexus to penthouse. 

What is required is a stream of image and sound that can accompany a shopper from the cereal aisle to dairy to household products without interfering with his thoughts. Only one American poet has come close to producing such poetry, and that is Nash Johnsbury. Johnbsury’s A Flume is the single monument of Poezac or Elevator Poetry extant. Younger poets should study this work not for what it accomplishes, but for its brilliant refusals.  Johnsbury’s avoidance of theme and story is, of course, well established. After flirting briefly with philosophical argument in Portrait of Eve in a Boutique Window, Johnsbury has pursued a vaguely troubled superficiality that suits the elevator perfectly. His avoidance of conclusion and closure, his natterings and digressions, his use of “the syntax of meaning” without any actual meaning, all provide a ground upon which a new generation can build a fully-realized Poezac. 

Much has been made lately of Federico Garcia Lorca’s notion of “duende.” American poets have clamored like pigs to the slop, trying to claim duende for their own work. Lorca, in his compelling, but ultimately misguided “Theory and Play of Duende,” claims that “The duende won’t appear if [the poet] can’t see the possibility of death, if he doesn’t know he can haunt death’s house.” Lorca’s continual pointing deathward is the opposite of Poezac, which seeks to deflect us from death and suffering and send us wholly into the distractions and episodes of shopping that constitute real life. In this passage from A Flume, Johnsbury masterfully counters duende with a vague nostalgia:

To have been kissed once by someone—certainly
There is some comfort in that,
Even if we don’t know what led up to it,
Or it happened too long ago to matter now.
Like almost too much light and warmth or a surfeit of powdered,
sugary things—who can complain?

The syntax is vaguely Rilkean—thus giving it the frisson of serious poetry—but the attitude is insouciance, the ease with which loss can be borne if one recognizes that lovers are like products, and the next one promises to be more brilliantly packaged, new and improved, carrying perhaps a few more ounces for the same price—all in all, an equal or superior value. Played softly through a public address system, such work can be heartening, such work can serve society, can heal and distract and promote an immersion in life that can counter the deathward plod of much contemporary American poetry.

Death to death! The time has come for Poezac, for Elevator Poetry. 


Blogger mlehr said...

haven't read ashbery in years, and never fully satisfied by his work, but the critique hear feels like a bit of a peevish hatchet job. It is not vague nostalgia at play in his work but alienation from and reconciling to the obtuse conjunction of the material world and one's personal history. His is not anti-death poetry, but the poet as ghost caught in time. It may not be conventionally earnest or your cup of tea, but it is serious work and doesn't deserve to be savaged. It may be troubling,unsatisfying,but it is hardly anesthetizing

12:24 AM  

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