Monday, November 10, 2008

CAMELS!, Barf!, Unincorporated Territory!, Ferment!, Try!: Works Received in San Francisco, 10/31/08

Brandon Brown CAMELS! (Taxt, 2008)
Brandon Brown is up there with Alli Warren and Dana Ward on my list of Poets From Whom I’d Most Like to See A Book-Length Collection. But Brown’s used the chapbook to such good effect since 2005’s My Life as a Lover that I’ve come to see their sequence as a form unto itself, a kind of delayed serial poem that leaves itself time to grow and distill between installments. CAMELS! amplifies Brown’s thinking about translation as an index of our relationship to the (usually Middle Eastern) other, and the other as a product of our looting crusades from Agamemnon through George W. (“the bomb that’s never stopped being dropped.”) The hip hop flow bangs up against a recurring stutter on the “k” sounds—“kah … cuh” “cuh ... coh”—that stands in negative relation (peasant abjectness? subaltern resistance?) to the repeating figure of the Kaiser, or “misprision of interests the Kaiser represents,” along with the camel that’s broken to serve him. Brown wears his deep sense of the past lightly and naturally, like people once wore suits in the ‘30s, and the erudition is never arcane, but works to clarify some of the uglier vectors of the present: “In direct speech: the fable’s not/so fabulous. Indirect speech:/war cries are never, um, worn out.”

Dodie Bellamy Barf Manifesto (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2008)
Barf Manifesto makes a totally compelling case for the virtues of the personal, messy, digressive, and awkward against the chic distance always ready to sing experimental writing into the rocks. In the course of working out what it is that makes Eileen Myles’s “Everyday Barf” tick, Bellamy ranges from her mother’s death to the “snooty pockets” of the MLA to the embarrassment of clogging Eileens toilet in a diptych of academic “talks” whose panels mirror back on themselves and set up affinities of contrast like an Op Art study of Bridget Riley’s (who also figures in the piece.) The paradox of Bellamy’s manifesto is that in putting so much of herself in, barf and all, she gains a kind of heroic authority to undo the spell that turns writers into pure and odorless literature machines: “Sophistication is conformist, deadening. Let’s get rid of it.”

C.S. Perez from Unincorporated Territory (Tinfish, 2008)
With Unincorporated Territory, C.S. Perez works to repair the fallen bridges between poetry and collective memory. Part history primer, part Olsonesque exploration of place, part sermon on the U.S. denial of its own imperial involvements, this first of twelve installments worries the gap between orality and literacy, documentary transcription and a commitment to poetry as an act of resistance to collective erasure. Langston Hughes and Pablo Neruda suggest some of the moral coordinates of Perez’s project, with the tight, economical maneuvers of the Objectivists as part of its formal armature. If poetry still has meaning for a people rather than an agglomeration of persons, here’s a good instance of how it might sound when it speaks.

David Petrelli Ferment (Try!, 2008)
Ferment is an impassioned diapason to the liberations made possible through black sound, especially the stretch of it that runs from free jazz to hip hop. To his litany of preterite heroes and famous pathbreakers Petrelli brings a deep awareness of the music’s social roots, so that changes in musical form serve to track patterns of social oppression, with Amadou Diallo and Clive “Kool Herc” Campbell worked into the same oscillation between injustice and artistic breakthrough, “the relationships between music and social movements [made] clear and limpid.” If Ferment has anything as simple as a thesis, it’s that “it is unlikely that a cultural current can grow or even survive if the social ferments that feed it are repressed or ,,, annihilated”—as good a gauge as any for measuring our stumbles and occasional triumphs in “creat[ing] a collective consciousness rooted in freedom and peace.”

Try! Magazine, 23 October 2008, edited by Sara M. Larsen & David Brazil
Try! is a twice-monthly assemblage of fonts, scrawls, maps, cartoons, inscriptions, legal documents, hand-colored DVD sleeves, homemade movies, graphs, charts, polyglot abecedaria, graffiti, musical notation, movie stills, zigzag quotations, handwritten lists and murky photographs that pull the poems embedded inside into the larger syntax of each issue, so that every number becomes a giant poem spoken across media, like one of Pound’s cantos souped up and with the politics right.

The poets included reflect the readings and afterparties of the Bay Area, but also the network of affinities that feed and flow from the happenings there, so that Try! is less a record of a particular scene or school than a real-time transcription of emerging sensibilities in the post-Bush era. Try! comes closer than any magazine I can think of to capturing how the poets I know really talk. Marx and Benjamin are inescapable spirits; community is a problem but also a given; film eclipses jazz or painting as the “second art” of choice; and the sense of the past is deep, sly, and politicized, putting the present at the lip of a process that began with the Ugaritic “A.”

The labor that goes into each issue marks itself with off-kilter cuts and freestyle kerning, so that you’re always aware of the scissors and paste behind the brainwork, behind all work and the bodies assembled to accomplish it. I think what Try! is trying is to offer a counter-assembly, new ways of making meaning out more genuine connections between persons. In direct speech: change. Indirect speech: Love.


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