Rhyme Scheme
Benjamin Friedlander
Subpoetics ("self-publish or perish") 2003

The frontiers of English are hovering, steps away, in some of the same places today as they have been for about 500 years. These are construction sites involving varieties of overlapping postures and expressions for intelligible English that in poetic media may entail figures and other entities that would be otherwise unemphasized or incomprehensible. The poet's advantage on this end of the half-millennium or so that surrounds modern English is twofold, the accretion to the lexicon and the long, full gallop, gathering still, toward lexical unmarkedness. This second point addresses the fact that trivially inflected verbs and nouns and mostly uninflected adjectives carry the weight in English languaging. Minimal inflection seems to complement a proclivity, as it were, for surface compression and syntactical streamlining in English -- in a pinch to switch a word's function from verb to noun to adjective (e.g., 'prompt') -- to direct or, better, to drive one's thinking onward. Poets of our own era have been known to volley with streamlining and compression, John Ashbery, Clark Coolidge, Peter Ganick, Eleni Sikelianos, to name a few almost at random. In Rhyme Scheme Benjamin Friedlander proceeds to the frontiers as a streamliner, but he foregoes the advantage of a contemporary lexicon, striking an historicist's pose, mining exclusively ur-texts from the other end of the half-millennium, the sonnets of William Shakespeare. His procedure is splendid and at first blush it is so simple one could readily overlook the judgment and hard work that pull it off. Friedlander takes in sequence the rhyming end words from all the lines of 154 sonnets and rewrites them as his titles and verses for 59 new poems, varying in length from one to five stanzas each. (The final poem titled "Love" has no stanzas.) Since Friedlander is appropriating language that is pre-radiated with Italian rhyme, the texts rock internally with metaphysician rumbles and 'lovely' booms, yet in rethinking how the sonic elements relate one to the other, how lines break, for instance, Friedlander makes news with hip noise. "...Win committed never, fitted fever, / True better, anew greater content / Spent now"; "Dates (shines) / Dimmed (declines) / Untrimmed / Fade." Thanks to that urge in the language toward compression and lexical flexibility, verb phrases switch into noun phrases, vice versa, and the sense is rushed along, even when there are indeterminate particulars ("Latch- / Part"): "Bred dead mind about blind / Out, heart. Latch- / Part catch sight: creature, / night feature." Friedlander has accomplished nothing less than to repurpose Shakespeare's semantics. Key to this accomplishment is how Friedlander merges and divides items from one sonnet to the next. End words from Sonnets II through VI make up the text of his second poem, titled "Brow" (there are three poems all together with that title in Rhyme Scheme). The poem thus 'inherits' vocabulary -- albeit atomistically -- from the accumulated shifts in tone and argument spanning "When forty winters besiege thy brow" to "Look in thy glass, and tell the face thou viewest" to "Unthrifty loveliness, why dost thou spend" to "Then let not winter's ragged hand deface." Friedlander's poem thus begins, "Field now held lies days" -- a smarting paraphrase, I would suggest, of the prelude to elegy that characterizes the prevailing tone in the early sonnets. "Brow" continues in its second stanza apace: "Old, cold, thou viewest another, / Renewest mother, / Womb husbandry, tomb posterity: / Thee." We are in the lyrical zone or poet's frontier, if you will, of evolving English music as the poem concludes, "sweet / Deface-distilled place, self-killed."


The Bodhisattva waits until everyone's finished before he executes himself.


Lines That Rhyme with Hotel Bombing

You didn't get where you are
Numbers seconds it takes
The buck stops there.

Welcome to the most powerful
A private affair
Eye brows and a few hackles raised

There is something
A little unsettling
Let's put it this way.

Can I call you back in the moment
Or will we be going anyplace
Rife for sympathy we gave up?

Didn't that happen a few months ago?
Few understood as well
Women see it's body language

As for throwing up our arms
There's consequences, the objects we keep
Lady, we're not folks under torturers.

That wasn't here.
Advantage has you pegged.
Just look at him!

You have no real uncle
In America the square
His eyes are closed.

An ennobling thought of
There isn't a pill for
The great surprise and much of beauty

The way it was
That sees the world
They got a president.



Agenda Melt
Kenward Elmslie
Adventures in Poetry 2004

Kenward Elmslie observed his 75th birthday by giving us his 36th publication, 16 poems and seven excerpts from older libretti, cover and a few abstract, flattened two-dimensional drawings by Trevor Winkfield. The affect is very much of a reprieve, beginning with layout, how the texts float, bravado-like and truly-independent, alongside Winkfield's altogether low-key drawings, a now-classic format reminiscent of earlier collaborations between Elmslie and others, most notably Joe Brainard. The poems reintroduce familiar lexical items, "Vegas," "hula-hula," "kitsch," "hissy fit." Again and again they dwell on fractured past events, as "details fall into place, but I have to strain to piece them together correctly." The second couplet of the title poem is one example. "Casp's a start-up tub-thumper 401 (k) whistleblower snitch. / Hardball nay-sayer same year as Kissinger, Harvard nifty-fifty." The compressed lingo is trademark Elmslie, but the backward glance, the persistent, deeply focused attention to discordances long ago, is something new. Likewise, anxiety over solitude ("management camaraderie") and lack of reminiscence ("Feel sealed off this day of memorylessness") are un-ironic, revealing a rapaciousness of imagination satisfied, it seems, by writing through paranoia and memory. "Memo / Start a journal." The superordinate name Joe and the phrase "I remember" recur here in absolute and profound tribute to Joe Brainard: "what a boring month January is, I Remember sez you / Sez I to you I need plenty." Weaponing against lost lives and opportunities, Elmslie's final recourse is this gift of poems, which "have a hidden agenda. Survival ploy ... an anonymous black hole earthling gizmos / scrutinize in micro-detail, as I hurtling, / spend the day curled up in bed."


Christina Strong
self-published (handmade covers) 2004

A couple of weeks ago, as is custom in Btown, Christina Strong threw an open house. She and Sean Cole held court. Cole read from Itty City, a first book of Herculean tonal loops and bee-stung phrasings already noted. Strong read unpublished work of enormous variety, starting her reading with a run-through of Accede, a self-published set of ten one-page poems that impress me as more intimate and more elusive than previous work. There is often an "I" speaking, and this very well might refer to the author. There is a "you," too, and the reference may be the same: "Manmade. You wish you were." The poetics phenotype, uncompromised incision. The shortest poem, titled "To be seen," reads in its entirety: "There is nothing more to say. / And everything in three languages. / Front window TV breaking news just breaking objects." That last word can be uncomfortably read as verb or noun, but if I remember correctly, Strong read it as a noun. That's more natural, I believe, and completes the media-simple vision of multicultural implosion worldwide. I'm not advocating poetry of gloom, but I recognize figures that seem spot-on with our shared currency: "Gesture of locations : hips swinging. And we will come back / Too. History. Resume. City of Ash…" Strong keeps her cautions thin and seductive: "Above all, don't / Fool yourself. Don't say it has been... // Who only yesterday, it seems, chatted with me, naked, / None is safe. Hit a climax of discomfiture, kissing, / Rearranged, re-oranged..." This last passage is from the title poem. There is similar counsel throughout.
Didn't Francis Bacon paint the photos of Abu Ghraib decades ago?


Now is the hour for an assiduous, Steinian, leftist poetics. Let us piss on and wear down the power structure. Let us get outraged at the outrage. Let's make poop of what we are doing and thus escape the risk of boring ourselves silly, quizzically. Let's concentrate on formal elements; let's praise those who make child's play of them and themselves. Let us surely not dispense with overt authorial culpability when world events intrude (or seem to) on our text assemblies, but let us not forget to kiss 'n kick arse for fuck's sake. Sweet.

----'s immediate concern is to dispel the notion that her consciousness was dominated by need and had ordered a "softening up" of discourse reception.

"If we don't shape this, we're going to be at the end of the whip," she said.
I'm sorry, ----, your poems do not give me the impression of an abusive free-for-all.
Am a graduate of the intelligence collector program.

My poems are available nightly for three hours in a tightly controlled room. One poem includes a woman posing with a dead body.

I've already written enough, why would I want to go write a bunch of perverted poems?

Let us not lose sight of the brutality of terrorists.
Let us not lose sight of how poetics and certain individuals as poets function as a state.
Let us not forget to conflate Abu Ghraib with 'higher-up' consciousness, the same sort that feeds us criticism and poems.
Give me a textual praxis as if from a cellblock gone wild.
An open question to friends, colleagues, observers. What criteria do you adopt in choosing poems and books of poems to review?
To the tune of "I see trees of green,
Red roses too..."

May the zone of green sprawl from mountain to gulf,
i-pods, zircons, Applebees ~ a walk in the park!

War is unjust when there is only one state to wage it.
There are no more communities.


I've left out my good friend Chris Mattison. How many others?
Stephen Vincent sent a note to Poetics asking about younger poets in Boston. There's a slew of them. Can't say I know everyone, and I'm leaving out some perpetual kids like Garrit Lansing, but here goes. Depending on your cut-off for "young," you might start with senior youth, Daniel Bouchard who co-edits "The Poker" and Jimmy Behrle who is perhaps a little more famous than others thanks to his NPR stints, fantastic curating at Wordsworth Books and prodigious blogging. Add their buddies Mark Lamoureux and Mike County -- both have had a couple of books released this last year -- and Sean Cole whose "Itty City" has just been published. Tim Peterson has lived in Boston for more than four seasons, so we can call him a townie now; his "Cumulus" came out last year, from Portable Press, and ranks as one of the most benignly caustic set of lyrics I've read in some time. Lamoureux and Peterson appear in the now-definitive young Bostonian "Sunday Morning Anthology," whose 'design and such' is by Christina Strong, a major writer on the scene, I think, who knows better than anyone else here how to merge Wieners with viz poetics for haut politics and raging verse. Among others in the anthology (available by contacting chrisx@xtina.org) Michael Carr and Chris Rizzo, as well as Gloucesterites Amanda Cook and James Cook. Also north of Boston in the Gloucester area you'll find the still-teeming Jim Dunn and Patrick Dowd and I'm sure a few others slaving at their craft. The Cooks, Rizzo, Strong, Peterson, Lamoureux, County and of course Behrle have their own blogs, and you can find out more about the B-scene by tuning in there (listings available at the Poetics EPC site or on sidebars of numerous poet-blogs, including mine, to the right). Other young poet bloggers from Boston: Michaela Cooper, Shin Yu Pai, Lauren Kreuger, Aaron Tieger. Tieger is moving out of Massachusetts, though, as has Yuri Hospodar -- big shortfall. Carl Annarummo has got to be the sliest poet-blogger ever, and he's leaving Boston this month. Another incalculable loss. But great to welcome Tina Celona to town. I'm sure there are many others to name and welcome.


Define zeitgeist. Define the atmospheres conducive for writing in 2004 in a language and from a culture that are reviled worldwide.


Fessin up. Folks have been writing me -- not Jordan -- about the last couple of days' posts here, their accuracy, so on. An Ethical Culturalist, I should clear up that 'flunked' term. Jordan never took the screen test I referred to yesterday. What Jordan refused to do was strip down to his Lily Pulitizer boxers, so the cams never got unpacked, much less turned on. That single act of resistance by Jordan was collapsed into 'flunked' by me. Which was not very nice.

Gary Sullivan does a combover.


John Latta makes out with Jeni Olin.
Maria Damon theorizes off Cliff's Notes.
Jordan Davis flunked his screen test.


Anne Waldman irons her jeans.
Kasey Silem Mohammad still listens to the Ramones.
Brandon Downing masturbates with a frozen hot dog.