"It was played to death / and its remakes are crap / but still it sounds okay Walt Whitman"

Today’s Reading: Anne Boyer, The 2000s: A History of the Future in Advance of Itself (click to get the whole thing free, because Anne Boyer is open-source and awesome like that)

The form of these poems—hyperparatactic prose—should be familiar to readers of New Sentence writers like Ron Silliman and Lyn Hejinian. Their tone of Jeremiac hysteria might ring a bell for fans of contemporary mad-poets like Bernadette Mayer, Alice Notley, or Hannah Weiner. But Boyer is witty, weird, and, yes, sincere enough to make these familiar ingredients feel completely fresh and genuine.

She has tricks for taking you off-guard, for one thing—like when she launches into a somewhat scathing, though never unbelievable, close reading of her own poem midway through it; or when, just a few pages later, she suddenly shifts into the language of a fully blown and beautifully aching love poem. But what really animates these poems is the merciless critical eye that Boyer turns on her contemporary moment, the same crabby righteousness that makes her blog and even her twitter feed such harrowingly essential reading. Somehow Boyer manages to be both a defiant dropout from modern life and at the same time a deadly accurate observer of it, as unnerving to see as someone standing in the doorway at a party and taking notes.

Boyer’s observations can take the form of deadly one-liners: “It was like an art exhibit after postmodernism: 100% subtitle,” “They say irony and I say good luck with that.” But more often her shots are deeper and darker, depicting a world of infinite connection and wealth in which somehow every experience is one of isolation and poverty. She can strike an impossible balance between satire and vulnerability: “I searched on the Internet for that guy’s name + freedom and that other guy’s name + love.” Or she can write with bitter realism about the quiet desperation of American life:
I was alive for years and had a job then. Whoever said we worked without risk has lied or spoken only for herself. I sit all day and everything around me is brutal and sloppy. They get angry with me. They always have. Someone bites my fingers. Someone yells. I was on the porch telling the visitors that I would like to feel a little less battered by the facts.
As those quotes suggest, Boyer is also fearlessly self-implicating (“I was a poet who wrote on the Internet. History provided me with my future’s true love”). That sense of standing in the doorway—disgusted by the scene but ultimately trapped both by social pressures and by one’s own desires, if not by the fact that there’s literally nowhere else to go—gives the book its overarching tone, one of wounded ferocity or self-emulating tenderness. It is, as Boyer recognizes, not just the twenty-first century condition, but a fully existential plight. Time past and time future are contained in time present, as Eliot wrote, and all time is perhaps—as he also feared—unredeemable: “What I was thinking was not contingent on the millennium. What I was thinking was ‘life has been so hard for many of us and what we really need to do is rest.’”

Meanwhile, her other free book, Ma Vie En Bling, is roughly equally as good. It has poems with unnumbered sections that each start on a new page, so you finish the first part and think, “That was a really good poem,” then you turn the page and think, “Oh cool, there’s more.” Major themes include pornography and rabbits, and damn-I-wish-I-had-written-that good titles include “He Hates My Life of Art and Beauty.”