Michael Friedman, Editor
It seems only a few months, but Shiny 13 came out three years ago. We presume it took most of three years for Michael Friedman to assemble the sort of master work Number 14 offers in spades. The impression is that only the best would do. Notice how Friedman opens and closes his 150-page collection: to begin, a single-page heart-stopper by John Godfrey, followed by a dozen rare pages from Steve Benson; to cap everything off, three poems from Charles North. Sandwiched between these early-late period maestros, some of the brightest work from poets you'd give your casino winnings to just to follow and imitate (that is, if you're a follower and imitator and winner like me). The poetry here is of a taste set that I associate with Colorado (where Shiny is published), carefully selected and purposefully ordered and, yes, these are implicitly essentialist pieces that play out esthetic strains of New York and San Francisco, typifying a criteria-based, stuff-on-the-page-is-primary editorial ethos (as opposed to work from chums or bits and bobs via random channels). So what is this stuff? Larry Fagin, an editor who has embodied the on-the-page ethos for decades, pours his notes out in brief paragraphs of disjunctive sentences that smart of a future, "sharpened down to next to nothing," under very very late French influence: "The descent, hearing coolly only your own ears, for cabin life is pressurized." The notes are zinging, adding up to widespread excuses for their own sake, some no longer than two or three words: "Chilly tarnish." Or "George said he's already fitted himself for a coffin. Make it click. Lazy folks work the hardest." In "Vancouver Poem" George Stanley -- talk about rarity -- proves his brand of erudition an equivalent of Ashbery's, making his, that is Stanley's, the darker of the horses: "A change in the relation / of background to figure..." as, OMG: "In the dream I lamented the passing of bistros / like the Modern, which was Sausi's 3 reterritorializations back / (bistro, fr. Russian bistro fast)."
Is it just me? or does Eileen Myles undo herself every time she speaks? In "Rene," a memoir piece, she speaks of Rene Ricard (who, incidentally, on Dec. 26, was given a roaring web reprieve at Dennis Cooper's blog) as a "carrier," one who "needed to be a member of somebody, everybody's families." In "Rene" Eileen spells out the irresistible giving as well as getting entailed in interconnectivity and glamor, a social dynamic behind what, frankly, has been lost to many younger poets: carriers are those who have this bundled-up, nervy, outgoing attractiveness (this, um, charisma) and have to pass it on to others (or, at least, empathetically encourage it in others), as Rene and Ted Berrigan, among many, did for Eileen and as she has done:
We were carrying the message, day and night for about ten years. That's about as long as you get. The houses are open and all you need is about three of you to go everywhere and make these gauzy invisible strings between people. It just makes sense that so many of us had time during the day and would stand in one another's kitchen. Smoking and talking and watching our faces change in the light.There's more, much more. Clark Coolidge continues to stun. First line: "Now it's birds a new loaf with shutters..." Fourteen 14-line collaborations from Ted Greenwald and Kit Robinson (East and West charismas!) -- "As they one-remove the chains / People like that." People will also like this all-are-lost humoresque from Jennifer Moxley, "The Quest," in which even decency and elegance are subsumed by eco-superordinates: "The arc of grace, a mystical exit from the trap / of birth chance and bloodlines, call it talent / or perhaps obedience: mostly we are poor."
There's more work here than I can point my mouse to. I'm grateful for all poems reflective of vigorous sexual frustration, ones that conflate youth's weariness and her attendant courtship with (or almost with) muse-like 'contact.' And there are a number of them in Shiny 14 -- that seems, in fact, another feature to Friedman's editorial disambiguation, poetry above or near the round feelings of sexiness. If a poem imitates sensual pleasures with or without extraordinary outcomes, that's really cool for Friedman, as in the kick-off "Through the Wall" by John Godfrey. There is "No way through the wall," Godfrey says, but he also instructs us, "I forsake your lips / to get in on the action / Then you are gone / and I get along." Steve Benson follows in similarly bifurcated joy: "...you're stumbling away from that / durable, penetrating pressure, and yet the next thing that you know / you've walked right into it, like a log..." I'm skipping a lot of others' near-bliss, but to give further evidence of Friedman's enduring appetite, I look to Charles North's brief poems of, as I say, an early-late period, one with a give-away title "So Much Writing" that points to "an older / brain that isn't old enough to remember being a celebrant." His are poems about being poems -- better than sex, in other words, as in "Poem Beginning with an Early Poem," there is more work and more than work to embrace since "systematic derangement of the senses / is a go. Erections are hard. Poetry is difficult." Hard and difficult, nothing but the best.