Wrapped up in Books: Little Presents from the Internet

I’ve recently received three short books in the mail (after I ordered them and paid for them).

The Readies, Bob Brown – This book was originally printed in an edition of only 150 copies, and has been out of print ever since. Now, thanks to Rice University Press’s new print-on-demand model and the Literature by Design series, you can get a perfect bound facsimile edition for around twenty dollars. Or you can read it for free online, though in what seems to be a deliberately uninviting format. This is either the future of publishing or another sign of the death of the book. Actually I think those are both the same thing.

The Golden Age of Paraphernalia, Kevin Davies – From my admittedly idiosyncratic perspective, Kevin Davies clearly declares his poetic lineage on page 4 of this book, when he abruptly ends a section of his poem with the phrase “So that,” followed by a colon. An inauspicious looking phrase on its own, but Poundians (I wrote a dissertation chapter on Pound and even published my one article out of it) will recognize it as the ending of canto 1 and the indisputable (I said indisputable, dammit!) high point of The Cantos. It might place this book squarely in the line of syncretic, pointillist verbal collage that stretches from Pound through Zukovsky and Olson to contemporary practitioners like Susan Howe or Mi Young Kim.

Except that Davies doesn’t actually end anything with the phrase “So that.” The page ends there, and a different poem appears on the next page, but the “so that” poem actually resumes two pages later with a line about zucchini. This is Davies’s primary innovation: his poems not only collide fragments of heterogeneous discourse, they actually collide with one another, interrupting each other from page to page and sometimes even on the same page. It’s a gimmicky-sounding device that produces surprisingly durable effects, as if the familiar disjunctive techniques of modernism had suddenly sprouted a third dimension, like a Miró painting that, when touched, actually turns out to be a Calder mobile.

With his allusions to MapQuest and scanning the Times, it’s tempting to describe Davies as a post-Flarf Pound, more interested in synchrony than in history, in discursive cacophony than in divine order. But there’s something of a baroque harmony in Davies’s polyphonic fugue—especially in the way the poems trail off one by one, finally leaving a lone voice to close things out—that seems too consonant, too faithful to the seriousness of poetry, to be anything other than resolutely modernist. This is, perhaps, the decadence of an already decadent style, the disjunctive tendencies of modernism involuting on themselves in a tail-swallowing act that can only be done once. But this time anyway, it definitely works.

Shoplifting from American Apparel, Tao Lin – Sort of like a Hemingway story for slacker hipsters with autism.

Most of you will think that sounds terrible but I actually really enjoyed this book. It did make me think that Tao Lin’s style must work better in short(er) forms, though, and I will probably read one of his collections of short stories or poetry later. It also made me think that it is very hard to read much Tao Lin without compulsively imitating him, at least a little. The “comments” at his “blog” seem to “bear this out.”