GLAD STONE CHILDREN by Edmund Berrigan
(Farfalla Press / McMillan & Parrish, New York and Brooklyn, 2008)
DRUNK BY NOON by Jennifer L. Knox
(Bloof Books, Brooklyn, 2007)
WHAT THE POEM SAYS I WANTS
Judging by the title of her second collection of poems, Jennifer L. Knox acknowledges, somewhat in jest one gathers, that life under the big top of alcoholism with J.L.K. (Kerouac!) is non-stop entertainment ending in joyous regret.
So Sweet Our Teeth Ache
from a drive-thru,
at least the biggest ones
and our beer’s magic
Let’s get incapacitated
under a tree—
short of that—
slowly bleed to death
through our sock bottoms.
We got nothing
going on at work.
We got no
and by the looks
of the stumps still rotting
in the bear traps on the lawn,
none’s on the way.
She’s sexy with words. A chat over cocktails would no doubt reveal more, and hopefully be a little bit of fun! and then we’d have a better understanding of just how she’s playing it, but as it is we have the poems and that’s not too bad of a deal.
The Ideal Reader For Jennifer L. Knox
(A Fellow American Down On His Luck)
Our research shows the ideal reader for Jennifer L. Knox is a man,
dressed like a woman, is over 40 but wider than a mile, 9 feet tall, all that,
is a Camaro owner, parakeet aficionado, Michelob drinker, half Canadian,
half sausage, half cowboy hat, is bad at math and bad in bed but is very
very horny, is covered with crumbs, is both unwilling and unable to
perform the functions on this card, watches at least 22 hours of TV a day,
would “fuck your mother under a picture of you,” happily answers all
telephone surveys, and reads poetry only if he’s going to be tested on this
shit. Other favorite books of this ideal reader include Dennis Hopper in
Blue Velvet, and the one Bugs Bunny cartoon where he helps the little
penguin go home.
Yet I want more from Knox’s poems because I want more from myself. These poems at times are a little too adorable.
There’s Just No Telling
For an abandoned parrot
Gobi (not your real name), where were you
before whoever left you here? What color
was the room around your cage? In a sunny spot
or cold gray corner? What sounds? TV? Radio?
An old hi-fi booming Brahms or Baker? Or nothing—
off to work they went, leaving you with lawnmowers
buzzing outside plush Connecticut digs? Or car honks
below your high rise? You hate being misted, insisted on
in all the books. Vegetables, ideally 75% of your diet,
remain uneaten and get yelled at. You still whisper
“I love you” to whoever taught you how,
the whoever who is never coming back.
Let’s forget all the extravagance of the come on and just let things sit idle for awhile. I believe that Knox is committed but at times she’s missing the essentials, forgetting that you must gut the rainbow trout before you fry it. This is something Lew Welch, a poet who was often indeed quite drunk by noon, would never have tolerated. Knox would benefit from taking note of Welch’s clarity and precision with the language—his Reed College thesis was on Gertrude Stein. Under a Byronic sun Knox glows, within the Keatsian bower she has the poet nibbling her ear, however confronted with Blakean visions of expansive wile she falters.
This is important. There’s never enough of whatever is most needed and we shouldn’t be expecting it at all times. While there’s no damning of Knox, there is always the desire for more; the eternal wish, as with friends, with anything worthwhile. What the poetry says should be taken to heart. When Knox is at her best it’s the playful, aliveness of the lines’ energetic synergized snap down the page that catches the attention most.
If Not Now then Next
My friend said OK so instead ask
yourself what you want next so
what I want for then’s a narrow
well-worn path down to the water
only I know it’s there it’s hidden
in the high grass and I go down to
watch otters in the water before me
behind me at my back people
I’ll love then and love now I still
love I understand better with more
compassion maybe they don’t
know where I am or what they’d say
if they did but I don’t see them
because they are behind me but still
I love them actually love them I
have a name for each otter they have
a name for me and this thing I’ve been
thinking lately how life goes on
too long by then I hardly ever
think any more.
* * *
Edmund Berrigan is onto something.
I am feeling feeling the pathogens working
whoso reconnoiter with the toes and socks
at a later spill, damn,
when I am re-invented I wish to be
a fizz or a trinket, the kind they sell
in every supermarket in Hell
Hell is a silvery relish
a place where people
breathe backwards and
writhe sonnets on tasers
fear this, & you’ll get good
at it after awhile
so shineth the dingbats
and the cunning teeth
of the zaph chancery.
who shineth sway
I always say.
He’s stepping off bridges, but he’s not alone with this play of where words just might go. Reading Berrigan, reminds of John Coletti and Jeff Karl Butler, the three of them are out there in Poetryland working separately at hacking out a new course, line by line, word by word. They take risks as if “risk” meant “wrist”—something intrinsic to the condition in which poems exist. This is a quite refreshing facet of Berrigan’s practice.
Corrugated Kentucky Welcome Mat
doorstep split infant splint sucker
normal signet miniscule captives
it is very supper
there’s nothing like auto vein propulsion
just water the electronic bon vivants
& troubled vice stows cable-cars
coking caustic soda on splinter fire
pugs plug splayed pale gloves
in cough centric melody stubs
we retro-fitted in sheep meadow
you wore a glowered palmetto
neither hair exuberant
oil well funk sell to the pigeons
& corporeal fizzle for Frankenstein’s
failed swing at a knuckler off the plate
in my skull, spring toast
The only question is whether Berrigan actually understands what he’s doing. What I can state definitively is that seeing the collection as a whole, such a large number of poems from over several years gathered together versus individual or smaller group appearances in journals here and there, reassures he just possibly does, that these poems aren’t some sort of joke to be born at the expense of poor schmucks.
It’s a Show
I was flying backwards into Easter Sunday
thinking about Kate, who would’ve been 40
sometime this year. I wonder if I’ll get
that second life, too, and I bet it’s just
like this one.
The bop narrative struggling its way along begins to iron itself out. Berrigan deserves attention for offering up something new without chagrin and charged with vitality. These are poems you may walk about in.
Berrigan and Knox share energetic approval and awareness of what “the poems” ask of them. Language is crawling all over throughout both of these books. This is exciting if, and only if, the reader is willing to allow for a few new things now and then to enter into her reading life; however it’s dangerous if the reader doesn’t keep her wits about her and pay attention to where, and upon what, she may be placing value. Although each poet pushes at extremes (though at somewhat opposite aesthetical tastes) this isn’t justification for success, there’s the lingering suspicion that neither of them quite yet knows enough to accomplish anything truly outstanding.
Luckily, youth is on their side. And, anyway, poems don’t prove shit. However they do lead to more poems. So it is that poets go on. Reading and writing and talking, this is existence for such beings. You won’t find poets getting anywhere any other way. So-called “showing up” just doesn’t fucking cut it. Berrigan and Knox are indeed writing and reading and (I assume) talking, each after their own manner and the company they provide is a pleasure to be heartily applauded.
Somebody ruined everything for this generation. Was it ourselves, destroying all possible ladders (don’t blame Yeats) as we simultaneously wished for—at the same time as against—them, casting blindly about? Poetry doesn’t make you famous and it will certainly help you destroy your life—after first inspiring it—far before it ever helps you save yourself, yet, true to form, poets go on writing “the poems.” If I believed there was any other faith worth attending to maybe I’d see it different. However, content as any believer ever is, I read Berrigan and Knox believing that my faith shall continue on—really?
I almost wish there was a way to say it different. There isn’t. I delight in the pure play of the language at it—that very thing the human creature is. Delight drives all. The stars flow through our veins. Look no further than your own form.
Patrick James Dunagan lives in San Francisco, his poems recently appeared in Big Bell and are forthcoming in Vanitas.