Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Christopher Schmidt's The Next in Line and Divine Childishness

Perhaps because he is uninterested in domestic narrative, perhaps because he doesn't always speak in a plain voice, perhaps because his poetics resemble someone like, say, Harryette Mullen as opposed to Richard Howard, Christopher Schmidt's The Next in Line, has been unfortunately, virtually ignored.

I would make the claim that The Next in Line is one of the best queer books of the year. And deserved to be one of the Publishing Triangle or Lambda finalists. I do have various degrees of respect for the finalists of both awards, but must admit The Next in Line wowed me more than some of them. One of the reasons involves the book's childishness; it refuses to settle down and be mature, ignoring the tropes and formal rules of what art seems to be to some queer poets.

The narrators in his poems are men who are invariably immature. You could say they're babies. Men as nasty, bratty babies. What man could disagree with that? Are we really anything more?

Sometimes the poems throw temper tantrums, refusing to act their age in an age that prizes (much to its own failure) calm seriousness. Let's look at "I Alone":

Dans ce monde, il faut etre un peu trop bon pour l^etre assez MARIVAUX

Every toad wants a piece.
Mr. Irresistible.
Gotta swallow it.

In the locker room
I wear a sign
to cover my ass

Says, Sorry
boys, taken.
Seems to work.

Every poet knows
he’s lousy
Me? I’m the shit.

Cock of the walk.
Talk of the gown.
Knotless wood.

Almost too good.

I wanted to pat Schmidt (hopefully a baby himself) on the head for making his narrator such a big, wonderful infant: the defiantly short sentences, the inability to stay put with his ideas, the end rhyme that seems to have been created simply out of boredom, the self-absorption contained in the fourth and fifth stanza. After Schmidt gives that baby a voice, he moves onto another one.

Here are opening sentences to the great, impatient, frivolous "Top/ Butt":

Born of sun lust, bus runs to sub-Boston porn moor, horny homo zoo. Looks stun. No frumps, no fops, just buff studs burnt brown. Luc, uncut, hunts cut cock. Jock, hung, lucks on smooth boy cunt, round rump up on dun outcrop. Coy youth sucks thumb, sub for schtup. Jock’s pud pulls north. Jock stubs youngun’s mouth, swoons…

We're so in love with the aggressive grunts (and the whines) that at first we simply relish the word-play, the charmingly dumb scatological humor. Only after a second read does the narrative clearly surface. Not that we need the story. The brilliantly crafted nursery-rhyme quality is enough. But there's no denying it; we're entertained, as gay male readers, by the baby's shenanigans.

And when Schmidt's narrators do mature, become adults, they doen't lose their infantile verve! They definitely resist the kind of school where you become complacently middle-class. Here's the proof. It's the prose poem "A Little Learning is a Profitable Thing":

The old school advertises its advertising class. The new school advertises in its advertising class. Corporate execs sponsor assignments, then shadow-watch as pupils sell themselves the wares. Teachers' branded pets, your continued tuition is appreciated.

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