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Frank Sherlock, Over Here (Factory School, 2009)

Now, from Philadelphia comes a modern day Mallarmé in the post-avant emissions of Frank Sherlock who is “telling the future from memory.” Enigmatic, crackling and wired, these word strings churn up the textures. “Junk food” jostles against the “old key of sovereign” as “a burnished voice summons reflection.”

Embellished with such beckoning studs and awash in atmospheric nuance, an unpunctuated forward motion is etched into columns in “Spring Diet of Flowers at Night.” The narrator deconstructs and reconstructs the elusive moorings of discourse. Love and neighbors surface in a swirling cyclorama where we are “anchored & confused.”

In several long poems, hybridized sentences are scattered sparsely like Hansel’s crumbs. Some pages contain only the phrase “(gunfire.” This diaglyphic, hollowed-out design is generous, leaving room for the reader to fill in the blanks.

Sherlock evokes theory as a muse. He manages to encrypt temporality handily with phrases that pitch between now and forever. Combining method and motif, he writes “Meanings verge on collapse then rearrangement clubbed into a scape.” The diffusion of a centralized text is backlit by crunchy language.

Sherlock’s words often point in multiple directions, enhancing their allure. “Spit” appears as saliva, mobiuses into impalement, and finally resonates as a sea-bound spangle of land.

At the end of the mystique, Sherlock reveals: “I want them to find me. I’m wearing a hood in the sketches.” Sounds cool… a vacuum filled with “skinned light.”

Alenka Zupancic, The Odd One In (MIT Press, 2008)

Sometimes a cigar is just a penis. But whether signifier or significant, both are kept “alive” by the possibility that the other may (or may not be) part of the “Real.” Alenka Zupančič’s trenchant treatise on the connection between philosophy and comedy is her second contribution to the Short Circuits series edited by Slavoj Zizek.

Zupančič convincingly weaves together all of philosophy’s grand poobahs into a remarkable synthesis. Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Freud, Lacan, and Marx (Karl and Groucho)—the author sorts it out.

Most comedy represents a fusion of positions: a never-ending separation and subsequent unification of reflecting entities that form dyads. This couple, or “copula” then overcomes the gap between the two and acts as a third presence.

By way of illustrating the dyad, Zupančič revisits Molière, who was re-visiting a play by Plautus. Jupiter has sex with a mortal and fathers Hercules. Jupiter apologizes to the husband but the poor man has nothing to say. Embarrassingly, his servant stands up. Whereas Plautus equalized god and man, Molière equalized master and servant. Both dramas require a “ludic” dyad.

A chapter called “Repetition” draws on Being and Repetition by Gilles Deleuze in which repetition connotes a break from the past, “offering something new.” Zeroing in on the “break,” on what’s behind the mask, we glimpse sublimity. Zupancic asserts “comedy… functions in the background of something that has always-already succeeded and draws its power from there.” So plug in.

Ryan Adams, Infinity Blues (Akashic Books, 2009)

Not since Patti Smith’s Babel has a rocker presented such an epic overture to poetry. At almost three hundred pages, the price is a real bargain (provided you’re a fan, which I unequivocally am. Ryan Adams’ brand of beautiful and damned music is simply as good as it gets.)

Song lyrics alone can be quite poetic and Adams is a master of them. These “blues” are not lyrics but they are lyrical. Freed from the music, the author expands his topology of personal relations. In “pa-paw special” he salutes a grandfather who made “somethings out of nothings.”

Adams does retain his Puckish charm and occasionally tight rhymes (awake, shake, quake, fake). Eileen Myles’s wicked blurb compares the poems to “a friend’s journal” or somebody who “you love talking to himself in the bathtub.”

“No really.”

The intimacy of someone soaking their bruises comes through in many poems, including “Closed” with its extended metaphor about a breakup. “Fuck it all” expresses the forlorn free fall that deep down we all like to experience.

“You know.”

The delectable dismay is cut with lines of rebellious, romantic and surreal fire. Bukowski and Mayakovsky would be equally at home in these smoldering monologues. Adams may be groping in a darkness he alone envisions, but you feel every lump and bump he stumbles over on his way to brilliance: “I am a subway map of the stars/ trains do not go/ to/ yet.”


The Brooklyn Rail

MARCH 2009

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