Tuesday, September 18, 2007

homemade traps for new world Brians

That is the bizarre title of Evan Willner's marvelous book of sort-of sonnets (a genre I myself am very fond of) that he read from this very evening at the Hyde Park Art Center tonight where I also read as part of Bill Allegrezza's series A. I'm going out on a limb calling it marvelous because I haven't read it, I've only heard Evan read some of the poems, but what I heard was deserving of the moniker of the literary movement Roberto Bolano invented for his novel The Savage Detectives (another book I haven't read but can't wait to read, in part because of this terrific review), "visceral realism." The book consists of a series of dyspeptic, furiously funny twelve-line poems or "states" (there's fifty of 'em) whose lines are twelve syllables each (except for the first, which has thirteen), and which attack the American landscape and narrative of Western expansion as though that landscape were lodged inside the speaker's body, kind of like the video cassette in Videodrome. Here's the unsettling poem named, indirectly, for Illinois:
thirty-fifth state

Seeing Brians exhuming themselves from sidewalk cracks
crawling maybe with Brian seeds and Brians that
come pouring like the savage preAmerican
dead pour out of road cuts and ground breakings, our pores
and each incontinent stitch and liabation
stratched or worried into our property, spraying
themselves all over us, loving so hard — needy
fetus wrapped knots of time that jerk and cry so we
can't tell what's wrong with them or make it stop —, shouldn't
somebody cram them back in where they belong and
tight dike the fissures they lick through to be with us
in today's breached and quickly drowning cavity?
Come on feel the Illinoise, indeed. A strangely apt counterpoint to my last post—the poem captures something of the strangeness and terror of sexual reproduction, its inseparability from a will to power that has very little to do with us as individuals, but is rather a species imperative. Evan's work seems deeply engaged with both the present and literary tradition—he cited Williams' In the American Grain as a source text—as here where he alludes to a line from King Lear and stands its delusional hopefulness for a refuge from nature red in tooth and claw (especially of course human nature) on its head:
twenty-first state

Believe that finches collect, shout, and fan each other
with our human news — who's on top, in; who's the next
biggest thing. Who's finished — or acrobat, or sing;
believe these moist bone assemblages cradling
their millimeter lungs can love so we can coo
them up to bed like palpitating peachfuzzed girls,
because when we see finches, we want to lie down
in them or just plop them into our mouths to feel
them tumble around us in oxygen bright blood
and become lodged in our brains' gathers. This is why
we have anthropomorphism: so we can, when
birds flap and bubble, believe that it's us they mean.
It was a very fine reading, and I'm grateful to Bill for inviting me and putting me on the bill (Bill on the bill!) with Evan. A very nice guy from WBEZ was there, so I understand the reading will be available for download here, and perhaps even be broadcast. You can hear previous series A readings here.

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