Sep 12, 2017
These collections tackle the poetry of architecture, pornography, and colonization. They made this reviewer think a lot of thoughts and feel a lot of feelings. Maybe you will too.
Midway Radicals & Archi-Poems
Ted Landrum’s debut collection of archi-poems, inspired by the “architecture of poetry and poetry of architecture,” is kind of like a horror movie: take a few prestigious authors (say, oh, Christian Bök, George Bowering, and Roland Barthes), put ‘em in a possessed woodchipper, and flip the switch—then see what the machine spits out after grinding up these wordsmiths according to its own whimsical laws of physics and imagination. Landrum builds “his” poems out of recycled materials, sampling essays, poems, and philosophy to create poems like rooms in a large building complex: interconnected but with no prescribed route through them and with maximized opportunity for users to see (and hear) unanticipated resonances. Consider one of the “beams” in “Ark Fundations, Roving Renovations (8 beams)”, which works with Ronald Johnson’s ARK: The Foundations (itself a poetic work inspired by architecture): “arkling / fiddling / ruffle / up / era / whisk / in / ornamentation / lilt / lucid / quill in a / win / tri / staccato / cluster / be in time / art.” The goal seems less syntactical then conceptual: to write and rewrite the world, to “Pick it up / the pencil / pick it up the pen let the ink run run run and do not stop till the silence / is a friendly one and / […] the fruit / trees / carved by / lovers.” A radical drive down the midway of Can-lit experimental poetics.
Search Box Bed
In Darryl Whetter’s Search Box Bed, a collection inspired by how technology is altering our vocabulary and lived experiences around sexuality and pornography, readers are taken on a racy romp through news feed fetishism, Amazon-marketed sex toys, and the “necessary / play” of BDSM. On a technical level, the poetry is excellent, the word choices and line breaks richly suggestive; from the poem “Yoga”: “sexercise. not tantric marathons but daily / unconsummated orgies in expensive clothes. / now that lingerie is cheap the ostentatious curves / are yogic, every studio a rapper's choreographed dream: / upper middle class asses / up, faces down.” A couple of content warnings should be noted though: sometimes the wordplay is lots of fun; other times, in poems like “Post Rape”, it seems to perpetuate the same sort of insensitivity that much of Whetter’s source material participates in. Also conspicuously missing from Search Box Bed are the innumerable contributions to conversations, images, and scholarship around sexuality, identity, pornography, and the internet that have been made in recent years by theatre artists, queer artists/activists, and feminist pornographers. “Here, finally, is the language of digital love,” proclaims the back cover blurb of Search Box Bed. Perhaps this assertion is a little ambitious. Search Box Bed is a language of digital love, but it is not the only one.
Dead White Men
Coach House Books
Drawing on texts written by early explorers of the Americas and nautical pioneers, Dead White Men plays a dangerous game: it simultaneously preserves the linguistic rush of encountering an other and unreservedly condemns the violence—epistemic, ontological, and brutally literal—that almost inevitably accompanies this lyrical, soaring language of discovery. The book is divided into two sections “this country of science my soul”, which deconstructs texts made during the 1769 measure of the Transit of Venus, and “what is history / a whitish story” (one phrase is an anagram for the other). James Cook struggles to choose the right name for his findings and maintain his linguistic composure: “I called it Cape Farewell for reasons which will be given in their proper place and be known on the Chart by the Name of Blind Bay or Cape St. George we have discovered it on that Saint’s day and on account of the ^ New Plants collected of this sort of fish found in this place I gave it the Name of Sting-Ray Harbour Botany^ist Bay.” Men colonize the telescopic gaze of Galileo Galilei: “the GALAXY is nothing but a mass of innumerable men in clusters—whenever you direct your telescope, an immense number of men immediately offer themselves to view.” The gorgeous language starts to engorge on itself: “They have all fine white Teeth they Climb like Munkeys. Their natural Dispositio / they have breeches made of feal fkin they are thieves to a man Short flat Noses and lips Their progress in Arts or Shoes of soft-tanned moofe hide they would steal bu / verything that came their way.” And so on and so on. Shane Rhodes turns the master’s tools against the master and catalogues his collapse, even as he reveals the disturbing degree to which our contemporary imaginations can fall prey to Dead White Men.