Notes away from a petite avant-garde
John Yau, Exhibits (Letter Machine Editions, 2010), 22 pp. $10.00
Yau’s wry humor disguises these serious interrogations of reader expectations from, first and foremost, a “book.” The art gallery/museum noun of the title blurs with the verb, and what follows is a series of punning, jokey, even hokey, takes on the text as monument, an issue taken up explicitly by C.J. Martin in his Two Books. This is, as it were, conceptual writing in a different register, not as appropriation a la Goldsmith and Place but rather, or closer to, Fitterman’s and Martin's more marked social and political broadsides. The erasure of any thematized beginnings or endings is only one of the “good reasons why a Table of Contents isn’t included in tonight’s menu,” (1) that pat nod to Barthes’ readerly consumer notwithstanding. In this text every one-liner rings with cultural critique, from the well-known Language Writing delimitation of the self (“I did not think for us all.”) to the “return” of formalism as “New” ("Shall we swirl up some spaghetti and fling it over the wall, hope that it lands on the heads of them all?”) (18). And yes, sometimes it can seem that the poetry wars barely amount to a hill of beans, or as Yau would have it, “It’s one thing to be blown off the face of the earth and another to have your face erased.” (14) Exhibits rights the scale, puuting things--aesthetics and politics--back into perspective.