Those reports won’t ever get written, at least not by me. But I did manage to write something about the Lewis Warsh books I got in advance of his reading, which I liked a lot. Soft rock and cowbell’s bound to sound like a diss out of context; I hope you can hear that it’s not.
Lately, I hear ‘70s “soft” rock on the radio and wonder at the craftsmanship. It takes a lot of chops to sound that easy-like-Sunday-morning smooth, and measured against the digital wizardry that’s come since, the production seems warm and honest, not MOR-slick. Once in a while a sharp bass lick or drum figure bubbles up through the flow, and I picture the studio musicians who gave everything they had to hits that got plenty of airplay, but little critical respect.
Warsh’s poems from the ‘90s work sort of like that lick. You move along absently tapping your toes across the registers—“She drove up to Boston & bought a handbag on sale at Filene’s”; “Don’t be afraid of hurting my feelings by telling me/you hate me”—then suddenly, a sentence that pulls you up with its subtle vernacular majesty:
“Mansions where executives once lived with their families will
be split into apartments for the families of the workers”
“I plant the symbol of order, Neptune’s trident, on the opposite
side of the achipelago & set forth under warm skies to a
new terrain, spellbound by the possibilities of the future
& the shadows of the strange birds hanging motionless
on the horizon, but I don’t know the name of the boat
I’m aboard—it’s like a shadow of some other boat
that went down in the storm of the Isle of Good Hope,
where promises of love were made only to be broken
the next day, where marriage vows were spoken
in the shadows of an empty cathedral, where friends
& relatives gathered to wish you well—could
anyone of them, or you, predict
this spell of cold weather
we’ve been having recently?”
That last one’s from someone who owns a few Ashbery albums, but within the context of the assured, direct, observational comedy-like zingers that surround it, it leaps out with an intensity that’s all Warsh’s. If second generation New York School is Zappa, and Language poetry’s The Clash, and theory is techno, the poems here remind me that sometimes a reader just needs more cowbell.