There's something inherently weak in a critic who refers to something as a "guilty pleasure." You can't help but imagine what pressures are weighing on them to feel they have to qualify their liking in such a guarded way. With Nocturnal Omissions: A Tale of Two Poets, Eric Norris and one-time porn star Gavin Geoffrey Dillard, have written a pseudo-autobiographical epistolary novel-in-verse comprised of frenetic, bawdy emails written during a two month period. Why feel guilty liking it?
The book begins with the poem "La Fin de Temps" in which Dillard boldly declares his intentions: "I want to supplant your blood with my sperm and/plant a garden of teeth upon island and crest." The next page features a response poem by Norris called "The Day of the Apocalypse." Here's a sample: "I creep forward like the Earl of Gloucester in King Lear, smelling my way to Dover.". And then Galvin's reply appears as the next poem "Petit Dejeuner au Lit." One of the lines asks "...will a hot stream of piss be mine and a fleshy scone of rubicund jam?"
Nocturnal Omissions might be one of the more intriguing books of 2011. Not quite camp, not quite comedy, it feels (sort of) like an extended in-joke-- except one that you do weirdly want to part of. Sometimes the experience is like watching a really amazing high-school variety show; it's sloppy, and you spend a lot of time simply admiring their gusto, waitng for them to stumble into the next fun bit. Sometimes it can take a bit too long to come, but you know it will. This book is even as overlong as most of those shows-- as it should be-- part of the fun is their refusal, conscious or not, to conform through compression. They feel entitled to their space and their excess, the thought of acquiescing to someone else's rules doesn't even seem to occur to them. It's 165 pages, and you get the sense they wouldn't mind if you didn't go straight from beginning to end. Go ahead and wander around. Do what you want.
The pronouncements of love and lust ("But you, precious halfling, when you grin and dance before me, even the possums mumble how tasty you might be in a pie or stew") makes the humor endearing in an uncommon way. You get the sense they're writing parody, or self-parody, or something reminiscent of an idea of parody, but you're not quite sure. The call-and-response poems document the minutiae of gay life ("I wore a wife-beater out in public today, for the first time in some years--the diet has worked"), possibly sincere philosophy ("Love is a misnomer, for it implies duality, purports two disparate parts intertwined"), and critiques of well-known contemporary poets ("I do like dogs. I detest Mark Doty.")..along with other things ("This week I had implanted my first bionic tooth--a titanium screw into my lower mandible; I have felt no pain...).
When you read lines like "Don't think me cynical if I find love incredible," you can't help but read this as a warning to the critic. in fact, the book transforms itself into something critic-proof. When they reference Sappho, Housman ("the best"), and Shakespeare, you don't feel the allusion are a nod to the audience, an insistence for approval, like the kind of poem the University of Chicago press goes ga-ga for. It's thrown into the poem because they felt like throwing it in; they like books because they do, not because they should.
As Bryan Borland's still new Sibling Rivalry Press (already highly regarded) continues to take off, you can't help but hope he doesn't begin to only publish more mainstream authors, like the precocious Saeed Jones and the established Matthew Hittinger, but also takes in what ultimately be the more unexpected projects from people who don't seem to have MFAs or the most embarrassing sort of Ph.D. (yes, you can still purchase one in creative writing if your multiple-choice skills are intact.) Flawed and wholly undisciplined as it may be, perhaps an integral part of its strength, the unstoppable joy of writing surfaces in Noctural Omissions, which is perhaps the most radical act of all.
Gavin Dillard's and Eric Norris' Nocturnal Omissions: A Tale of Two Poets is available through Sibling Rivalry Press.
Neil De La Flor's and Maureen Seaton's Sinead O' Connor and Her Coat of a Thousand Bluebirds is the kind of poetry book that most often never wins awards: it's too creative. Their collaborative effort does something most authors working together don't have the gumption to do: refuse to tidy up their poems in a way that everything becomes seamless and you're left saying to yourself, "This poem feels like it's written by one person. Everything is of a piece." What's the point of reading a collaboration if it doesn't feel messy, busting open with too much talent? Why believe less is more? Sometimes more is more. For good reason.
The rambling, blessedly moronic litanies are obviously perfect vehicles for collaboration. They makes lists and a lot of other things. You can imagine a pair of poets trying to outshine the other as yet another burst of creativity jettisons its way through the Internet. However they divvied up the work for their collaboration is ultimately irrelevant. What matters is the end results, and this book is so wonderful. Take a look at some of the zingers. Here's one from "Metempsychosis": "I believed ellipses were Lilliputian prints of panini recipes" Another from "Words of Mouth": "They say Beethoven's maid died of lead poisoning. If she ate paint, it would be a thread of gold through turquoise, swan's blood, a violin silence." Or the entirety of "The Archaeology of Christendom": "The sorest spot on my head is a temple./I have bra cups in multiple sizes."
These brilliant comics know every joke is ultimately a throwaway, every poem a vehicle for urgent nonsense.
Neil De La Flor's and Maureen Seaton's Sinead O' Connor and Her Coat of a Thousand Bluebirds is available through Firewheel Editions.
Consciously oppressive and morose, Andrew Demcak's new book of poetry Night Chant labors to create what could in lesser hands seem like a queer rewriting of Sylvia Plath. Demack knows better, although he, too, creates a dreary atonality through intriguing word choices. Often the work he does here feels strained, but in a good way; he doesn't want any of his triggers to produce a baldfaced narrative. The titles of his poems --"Rent Boy," "Crossing the Water," "Troll," "Child Killer"-- seem irrelevant; they feel like a random noun someone uttered to rev Demcak up to show his skill. And there's more than a solid amount of ability here.
For a significant portion of the book, Demcak strains to deconstruct a noun, and then asks us to help him reassemble it. In the better poems, we feel the labor of that strain--the diction and metaphor pushing the subject in a way that force it to become something one can perceive as new. Here's some of the fun play in the personae poem "Oedipus Rex": "His lips had lost their sphinx,/ that tired jinx, that nag./...Midnight's middle was not an empty room./My cock was the answer to the riddle." Or the curiously askew final couplet in "Orgasm vs. Rainbow": "Orgasms are bluster, quick mouthfuls, ogling eyes./But you have rainbows for days after denouncing the clouds."
Occasionally, he doesn't feel like he's straining quite enough; he doesn't deserve the release. For example, in the less striking poem "Eros": "Inferno, bright flame, the spasm of flesh./ Halos blazing sparks ignite: orgasm."
Demcak's book sometimes feels over-long (close to ninety pages); the exertion required for reading such a lengthy book feels slightly greedy, especially since some of the poems like "Mirror at Forty" and "In Solitude" could be easily edited to highlight some of the best like "Eavesdropper, 1990" and the daring "Mishima Fantasy.". But still, it's hard to find any place in the the book where there is anything that resembles "a merciless desert here, this page."
Andrew Demcak's Night Chant is available through Lethe Press.
You could say that Hansa Bergwall's and Timothy Liu's chapbook The Thames & Hudson Project is the best chapbook explicitly fashioned out of a queer mid-life crisis. As they declare in the prose polemic that begins their project: "...the notches left on your belt that once made for salacious stories to aggrandize tumescent vanity feel less consequential as your body ages, as the face you greet each morning in the morning no longer speaks to the who and the what you've been for all the men you've dallied with, even written about." In one of the most painfully beautiful poems, "You, Under My Window," we see a presumably older narrator who finds a vitality in the search for a space relieved of solipsistic desire as well as a cowardly acquiescence to the beloved. The poem begins: "The oak turned red while you sung./How boring." It leads to a final couplet which reads: "When my wrinkles/smoothed and my nose pugged, I ceased/being me. Go ahead and make love/to your magic. I am not there."
In so many vital ways, this is a book obsessed with ethical compromise. It's elegantly instructive in how a poet can explore restlessness within the lyric: the relationship between the "I" and the "you," sex and the lust, reader and writer. Always self-reflexive in their own deliberately melodramatic illustration of the erotic, the authors avoid easy thematics. From the poem "Without You," the poets write: "Without you I am the diorama's/glassed-in air, the dew drop/that never falls into a time lapse photo..." Cagey and open-hearted at the same time, Bergwall and Liu disclose their dissatisfaction with unchallenged, plain depictions of homosexual lust and sex. What they come up is not so much solutions, but a relentless, and often comic, inquiry into the gay lyric, never losing sight of what may, in the end, be the most necessary imperative to the poet and reader. As they write in the poem "Under Your Window, 3 AM: "Do as you will./I am here/to serenade you."
Hansa Bergwall and Timothy Liu's The Thames & Hudson Project is available through Fields Press.
Almost feeling like a game of Tetris, there’s a lot of fun in watching Charles Jensen shift and slide the sounds and meanings of words in his new chapbook, The Nanopedia Quick-Reference Pocket Lexicon of Contemporary American Culture. With suaveness, Jensen manages to create puzzles through prose poems that wind up feeling as solved as an aphorism and as open-ended as a sweet riddle.
One of his best, “Reaganomics,” begins: “The color-coding trends toward the blue collar.” It ends with bleak comedy: “Dollars trade hands. Those young boys take one for America. It’s a chaos theory: a butterfly flaps its wings in Beijing; a moving car blowjob goes suddenly, horribly wrong.” Indebted to Stephen Dunn’s Riffs & Reciprocities: Prose Pairs and James Richardson’s Vectors: Aphorisms & Ten Second Essays, Jensen refuses those authors’ flat diction which always verge on sounding like a USA Today article.
Here’s where “Frenemies” begins: “Tragedy makes the shape of an O with his mouth and sooner or later, you know some teenage boy thinks, Round peg, round hole. Here’s where the same poem ends up: “...everybody loves a loose Tragedy, but comedy doesn’t get near enough play. The difference between Hamlet and Hambone.” Serio-comic, Jensen’s chapbook reveal a great aptitude for the making of worthy prose poetic games.
Charles Jensen's The Nanopedia Quick-Reference Pocket Lexicon of Contemporary American Culture through MiPOesias.
Steve Fellner's second book of poems The Weary World Rejoices was published last year. His first book of poems Blind Date with Cavafy won the Thom Gunn Gay Male Poetry Award.
His memoir, All Screwed Up, focuses on his relationship with his ex-trampoline champion mother.