MAINSTREAM by MICHAEL MAGEE and MUSEE MECHANIQUE by RODNEY KOENEKEALLEN BRAMHALL Reviews
Mainstream by Michael Magee
(Blaze Vox 2006)
Musee Mechanique by Rodney Koeneke
(Blaze Vox 2006)
quickly now, two books from the same publisher. both are actual flarf books, fresh on the hoof. I don't mean to conflate them or their authors beyond the convenience of their sharing that same publisher, tho as flarf list vets there must be cross-pollination. not that how anyone expends their pollen is any of my beeswax.
Blaze Vox is not particularly a flarf publisher, but these two writers definitely flarf, and will tell you that they do, too. both books show flarfian strengths, but I to wish to avoid that specious cultural war of flarf-good-or-bad. that's so last tuesday at the elementary school. I'm talking majuscule P Poetry here, not some sordid segregation.
Michael Magee's Mainstream has already bitten off a good piece of controversy. here's one of my rules: if a work stirs up strong emotion, it is worth reading. the immediate corollary to this rule: if a strong emotion does occur, find out what's underneath it. also, try committing yourself to what is on the page, not to imputations about the author (the who?). in fine, my advice is: check it out.
fine then. Mainstream, for starters, is a tough, raucous affair. the humour is possessed, political, and often quite nutty. not wry like, say, Billy Collins or James Tate. definitely absurd, but biting as well. Magee preys on the collisions of pop culture and the real war. somehow, I want to say that his work is both instrument, and a meter of that instrument. I mean meter as in a measuring of extent. if I were to speak of intention, I'd say Magee wants to frag someone, but in a kindly if conundrumical way.
you'll probably push the wtf button several times as you read, because his confrontations combine with a density that makes nothing easy. and it shouldn't be easy. if one plans to treat of racism, sexism, homophobia and other interstices of political smearing, one can't be simplistic. or one can, it happens often enough, but that's in preparation for stun guns and other such abject arguments.
here are the first few liens of the title poem:
“Poems are, like, total bullshit unless they are
squid or popsicles or deer piled
on elk in the trunk of David Hasselhoff's
Magee seems to be extending Spicer's real lemon, and ReaLemon, it occurs to me, is a product for your purchasing pleasure: reconstituted lemon for those times when you need something like the real thing. I hope you have a similar ah hah! moment as I just had. a few lines further, we encounter:
“...I could kill an entire day
with a popsicle stick and a small jar of insignificant
brain cells lost in the 70s by George W. Bush.”
the specificity is important, being pretty much a demand to notice all the crap, no matter how common, local seemingly innocuous. or how about this plaint:
“What kind of deity has 40 years to perfect His culinary skills and can't do better than manna?”. some of our most spiritual moments are crabby.
that density that I mentioned is where the work begins. the syntax is not obvious, tho you may wish it were. remember, poetry is not opinion. I found Magee's Afterword quite helpful, as he speaks of his method and also of how flarf developed. this Afterword may just give you a foothold into the flarfian realm. or just call it poetry and don't fret the catalogue.
Musee Mechanique differs considerably from Mainstream but both reside on the same planet. Rodney Koeneke also provides a useful Afterword. he's a veritable newcomer to flarf. his first book, the wonderful and award-winning Rouge State (Pavement Saw, 2003), predates his involvement with flarf. I note that his method may have changed or evolved, but the voice remains identifiable. and no sophomore jinx!
Rodney's humour is rather oblique, but fun. I especially like his series called On the Clamways, taking off from Clark Coolidge's spunky On the Nameways. sassy and dippy at the same time, this series pleasantly shakes your peach tree. well, it did mine, I don't mind saying. “And by the way, clam culture as it happens / Is ruled by this bitchy little number called 'Snappy / the Clam'.” omfg!!!
there's a happy friskiness to Musee Mechanique (which, in fact, On the Nameways also possesses, not to push comparisons between Coolidge and Koeneke). poetry is language at play, say I. goofiness and tenderness mix together in Musee, in a supple registration of poetic energy. here's “Sparrow” entire. try to read the map carefully:
Often I return
to a management compensation situation:
we lie together gazing up at the spackled ceilings,
wan mirrors of ourselves.
Each month brings it flaccid enchantments
around like a dim sum cart. We choose
among absences, forgotten rooms
in an underused vacation home.
Today's colonoscopy went swimmingly
I think. First I saw inside myself,
then a snow hove off the eaves.
A white-breasted nuthatch nests in my
urethra, and begins to sing.
this is poetry, right? so what's with that sticky phrase in the second line? how do colonoscopy and swimmingly happen to work together? likewise nuthatch and urethra? ah me, our rare thoughts occur in a world of spackle, vacation homes and colonoscopies. we reside in a war zone of many functions, and it drives us kind of batty. anyway, do you see the advance here, the acceptance? and isn't there tenderness here, as I already suggested?
with both Mainstream and Musee, I found that I had to slow down my reading. the felicities are kinda quirky, you've got to give them time to greet you. both employ disjunction as a sort of destabilizing effect. just as you start seeing things in a clearcut, simple way, you are routed from your complacency. I admire that sort of rupture of the given. that rupture might be a definitive component of flarf. I really highly recommend both books, but only if you are willing to give them proper time. I don't know whither flarf, but these two books are excellent and to have.
Allen Bramhall: sharing a birthday with Herman Melville, Jerry Garcia and Lt William Clark is only one of my many accomplishments. I am a lifelong righthanded resident of Massachusetts, have published one book with more to come, and I paint. I am traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol AHB, and am open to a leveraged buyout.