Tyrone Williams

Hunches, Hedges, etc.

Hemispheric history 101

Detroit and an engine of modernism

Roberto Tejada, Exposition Park (Wesleyan University Press, 2010), 68 pp. $22.99.  In After Translation Ignacio Infante attempts to disable national, linguistic and cultural borders in order to reposition modernism as a hemispheric, if not global, phenomenon. In doing so, he follows the paths of any number of writers and critics (the late Lorenzo Thomas, for example).  However, Infante places translation, in Walter Benjamin’s sense, at the center of this project. Going a step farther, Roberto Tejada torques Benjamin’s arcade, underscoring its curatorial facet. Thus Exposition Park is itself a kind of updated Harlem Gallery, teasing out the linguistic, political and cultural implications of Tolson’s magnum opus. Divided into seven sections which correspond directly or indirectly to public and museum art projects, exhibits and performances, this book dissects Anglo-American myth concerning the Americas and sutures a “new” history that emphasizes “In no beginning/ was there just one language.” (42) The central metaphors throughout are the various world expositions during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Half and a second ...

Jared Schickling, The Pink (BlazeVox Books, 2012), 75 pp., unpriced

Unlike the Wittgenstein-inspired ruminations of Schlesinger’s book with the same title, Schickling’s exuberant derring-do refers explicitly to the German folktale (one of the ones collected by the Grimm brothers) called “The Pink, Or The Carnation.”  But Schickling’s book is more than just a masterful rewriting of the original gender-bending story. Its concerns with patrilineal and matrilineal tactics, pitting gods against humans, parents against siblings, servants against masters, and so forth becomes the launching pad for a bizarrely compelling mash-up of Joyce’s Portrait (“bee bay / yoo hoo”), L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz (“Power lines! lashed to boards bolted a species of limb snapping one night through gusting minor storms”) and Dante’s Inferno ( “B.” is our narrator’s spunky daughter, Beatrice). The mix-up/disappointment of the queen in the fairy tale (she is accused of murdering her son) occasions our narrator’s tale as a journey from childhood (“I was an accident”) to fatherhood. A dizzying display of different fonts, typefaces, prosaic and verse forms, The Pink ranges back and forth between the perspectives of children and parents, boys and girls, and mothers and fathers. In that sense it is truly a family tale as well as an intensely personalized autobiography. In other words, this is the kind of poetry only a parent or a child could "get," if not throughly appreciate,  though the rest of us can revel in its linguistic inventions and marvels. 

First and a half

pink ties...

Kyle Schlesinger, The Pink (Kenning Editions, 2008), unpaginated, $7.50

As John Yau does in Exhibits, Schlesinger envelops social and cultural critiques in humorous retoolings of clichés. Schlesinger, however, deploys more traditional devices than Yau, especially enjambment, in order to draw attention to his broadly “ecological” concerns. As he puts it in the first poem, “Macrosemantic Liturgy,“ “There are plenty of rivers in the sea/ But you can’t step on the same fish twice.” Alliteration and opposition (“Light’s lofty//Turn towards/the quotidian”), internal rhyme and assonance (“In the beak to the/ Bleak passage say”), and repetition (“Which” is a leitmotif throughout the magnificent “Shedding”) cross-stitch these poems together at every level: syntactical, rhetorical and semantic.

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.

One woman's garbage ...

Lara Durback, Greg Turner, Garbage Research 1: Hoarders and those resembling hoarders (Dusie/No No Press, 2011), unpriced — This little collage of found materials, original commentary, illustrations and sketches is part of Durback’s ethics of making, a commitment to recycling everything. To that extent, then, the subject of hoarding holds a mirror up to the found stuff that comprises this chapbook. The house of mirrors is a system of ecology here; feedback and loop are pertinent practices. And yet a large part of the commentary concerns the television program Hoarders, a show that focuses on those who withhold themselves and their “stuff” from circulation. Durback thus investigates the emotional toll — guilt and shame as effects of what we might be tempted to deem adolescent recalcitrance vis-à-vis obsolescence (a psychoanalytic perspective might see in hoarding arrested development at the anal stage….).