Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Thank You, Nada

Three years ago today, Nada Gordon delivered the introduction below at the Bowery Poetry Club in NYC. Introductions are one of the most neglected currencies in po biz, an instant of glory in an art that offers few. Thanks Nada, for mine.
To frame my comments about Rodney Koeneke's work, I'd like to begin with a somewhat extended epigraph from E.W. Lane's An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, published in the early 1830s:

The dancing girls appeared in a cloud of dust and tobacco smoke. The first thing about them that struck me was the brightness of the golden caps upon their tresses. As their heels beat upon the ground, with a tinkle of little bells and anklets, their raised arms quivered in harmony; their hips shook with a voluptuous movement; their form seemed bare under the muslin between the little jacket and the low, loose girdle, like the belt of Venus. They twirled about so quickly that it was hard to distinguish the features of these seductive creatures, whose fingers shook little cymbals, as large as castanets, as they gestured boldly to the primitive strains of the flute and tambourine. Two of them seemed particularly beautiful; they held themselves proudly: their Arab eyes brightened by kohl, their full yet delicate cheeks were lightly painted. But the third, I must admit, betrayed the less gentle sex by a week-old beard; and when I looked into the matter carefully, and the dance being ended, it did not take me long to discover that the dancing girls were, in point of fact, all males.
Omaha native and San Francisco resident Rodney Koeneke is the author of Rouge State, which is the best title ever given to a book of poetry. Rodney, from the perpective of what he calls "the bruised Sargasso of white male sexuality," clearly empathizes with "pussyboys," girliemen, and femi-whatevers everywhere. In Rouge State, he madly liberates the once-vitiated template of the lyric, slotting in his own gorgeous, irreverent prosody, making poems that are not only zippier than pinheads but really the zippiest thing since zippers.

You can distinctly hear the echoes of the footsteps of the ghost of Théophile Gautier, in his trademark yellow waistcoat, walking his lobster through the grand opera of these poems. They are deeply dandified "hostile melodic situations," as "brazen as mariachis" and "fecunder than succotash." They are "delicate lorgnettes" that can see all of history happening at once, and "mentholated curlicues" full of "pterodactyl dactyls" and "hot pink verbs."

The figure of the dandy, of course, most lately born into the media as the overcommodified metrosexual, represents the perfect union of the masculine and feminine principles, and is most often clothed in fine fabrics of oriental origin. Indeed, the attars of the mysterious "east" soak into every crevice of Rodney's poetry but laced with pungent irony and historical awareness, so that the story of an odalisque is also the story of how our own tabula rasa get written all over with learned desires:

We spill in the world into genders,
fall out like dirty turpentine
from an upset coffee cup --
at first abductees of the harem
refusing silk pillows and gold-tipped cigarettes
then gradually learning to simper and sprawl...

By example, his writing answers the rhetorical question that one of the poems poses: "How to negotiate the mare incognita of preconscious verbal data without pissing off the vagina dentata its excretions will have to pass through?"

Although replete with bagatelles and monkeyshines like "Got Rilke?" and "the jewel is in the logo/ the jew/ is in the Logos," they also drip with a kind of comic lament at the extreme trivialities and decadence of our time, its "dry transnational orcs" and " glitzy manufacturies of consent." To paraphrase Donovan:

Histories of ages past
unenlightened shadows cast
down through Rodney Koeneke
the crying of a manatee

down through Rodney Koeneke
the crying of a man.....

1 comment:

Wade said...

I wish someone would introduce me like that.