Thursday, September 02, 2010

Bryan Coffelt's The Whatever Poems

Sun didn’t start until nearly July, rain came yesterday, so the 2-month summer is almost a memory whose madeleine for me is Bryan Coffelt’s The Whatever Poems. Though he’s Portland’s now, Coffelt’s a founding member of the Ashland School, which surely has as much right to the name as Ashbery’s “soi disant Tulsa School” ever did. Draw a loose circle around poets like Maurice Burford, Jess Rowan, Lacey Hunter, Mike Young, and Willie Ziebell, throw in a rejuvenated West Wind Review, check the Southern Oregon University faculty page for K. Silem Mohammad, and you’ve got some idea of the energies that move through Coffelt’s work. There’s a terse, Internety overlay to the poems (“the 80s was a motherfucker,” “i’ve been advised by,” “McAfee is #1 in/threat detection,” a dedication “for facebook”) that acts as a tonal blind for catching the empire’s blues in situ. “This is intended to make a statement/you know/and again/oh my gosh it’s horrible” is as good a precis as any for the areas the writing explores, where “a loss of market share” and “the sitcom fantasy/of the American dream” fuse with “The End of Major Combat”—Lincoln’s to Obama’s—in a war that never really ends at all. Coffelt’s especially deft at loosening affect from content; “everyone here is/losing at something” gains for not trying to pin down what the everyone, here, or something might be, which gives the “losing” an allegorical weight that can settle on almost any of the nouns that surround it: clubbed seals, Nagasaki, Vietnam, Baghdad, “expansionary policy” or Keynesian economics “of the tongue and genitals.”

Coffelt’s sharp sense of protest stays true to the weirdly distanced, spectral, technologically mediated nature of the disasters we face off against right now, but that riff on Keynes reveals a knack for charting these abstractions at the intimate, lower-case lyric “i” level. It’s an “i” that often sounds courtesy of Google, but wound around a coherent and affecting core of pathos:

“i slept with a gun
for nearly 25 years”

“i love you
i Google Street View you”

“as i returned to this
i talked
about the nothing that i could

“i said i wanted you
i said i wanted something
to wake up for but i just
got a Game Boy Color
puzzle game developed
by Konami”

and, wrapping up the collection:

“i told my friends
one night in the kitchen
what i thought of everything

i made a circular motion
with a pen and paper.”

It’s the “motion” in The Whatever Poems that prevails over the “everything,” and circular, not Vico/Greenspan-cyclical, feels accurate, plangent, affirming, and magically exorcising all at once.


Bildore said...

Rodney, thanks for this review. I will get Bryan's book as soon as possible. He is an old student of mine, although I cannot claim any influence.

Also, I got the jiggles when you mentioned the "Ashland School." I love this.

We met briefly once when you came to Ashland to read.

Thanks again,
Bill Gholson

rodney k said...

Hi Bill,

I remember! Thanks for reading. Hope you, Craig Wright, and Kasey keep sending your former students up the Five.

Maurice Burford said...

I could kiss you, Rodney!