W h i t e   L i n e s : a Poetry Year in Review

Poems for the Millenium: The University of California Book of Modern & Postmodern Poetry
When you try to read anthologies, don't you keep hearing Thumper say "Ha ha ha ha, that's not a flower"? Or is it just me? Here we are at another boring loud smokey crowded party whose tongue-tied guests might make excellent company in more intimate surroundings. In this one, the usual suspects are all as usual, but as for the introductions and the collection of creation myths -- oh, fertility symbol help me, what can I say? Jerome Rothenberg = Sha-Ma-Na.

Most Hilarious Ad
Speaking of Sha-Ma-Na, how about Clayton "Encino Man" Eshleman's offer to show well-heeled spirit-questers around those tres chic cave paintings in France? Count me in if Sister Wendy is part of the deal. You have to wonder what'll happen if these guys ever discover Bo Diddley or E. C. Segar.

Second Most Hilarious Ad
A friend of mine who went to get a Creative Writing M.A. around the same time that I went to get a haircut showed me an issue of his Creative Writing Grad Student Alumni Magazine. I forget what it's called, probably something like "The Quotidian." Anyway, it included an ad for an expensive European vacation and the headline was "BE AN EXPATRIATE WRITER FOR TWO WEEKS."

Frame Structures and The Birth-mark by Susan Howe
Howe is the only poet I know who doesn't seem to be impassioned just because it's cheaper than drugs. A couple years back, a vilely careerist Bay Area poet who's since become a vilely careerist New York poet told me (well, she told the carload of poets I was with -- she wouldn't be caught dead talking to me) that she thought Susan Howe was probably insane. Which reminded me of when I first realized how the canon is managed, when I was a teenager and read some guy in an Untermeyer anthology saying that he used to like Emily Dickinson a lot until he heard Ezra Pound make fun of her for being a nutcase. I mean, can you imagine? Ezra Pound!? Personally, I think Susan Howe's portrait should be on the front of the one dollar bill.

Gunslinger by Edward Dorn
It's aged better than Head or Tell Them Willy Boy Was Here but not as well as The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly or The President's Analyst (which made similar use of LSD). Like most 1960s high art, a scary reminder that mocking pop culture is more likely to make you irrelevant than irreverent. And I might as well confess right now that I have a copy of The Last Whole Earth Catalog in my basement in Braymer, Missouri, since that's the only way you'll ever find out.

Tjanting by Ron Silliman
Ron Silliman kills me -- Steven Wright as a morose dumpy hairy leftist computer worker. He's one of those guys, he can't help it, he's just naturally funny, and if his public pronouncements sometimes come off like Jerry Lewis's, that goes with the territory. In his poetic work, Silliman usually just has to count off sentences and think about the same shit every day, a form which fits him like heroic couplets are supposed to have fit Pope. Unfortunately, Tjanting's form is sound-based instead of sense-based, and Silliman's heretofore unrevealed limitations get in the way just about every other sentence. Still a treat, but I needed an extra cup of coffee afterwards to wash it down.

A bunch of recent issues of Talisman
The easiest way for poets to make names for themselves has always been for them to make up names for themselves. But these local chapters of the Dud Poets Society are really starting to get on my nerves: "New Boston Poets," "New Seattle Poets," "New U.K. Poets," jeez, just call yourself E. C. Fan-Addict Club No. 141 or something. The Fall 1996 issue manages to scrape by on one of those Robin Blaser importance-of-being-earnest interviews and a beautifully irritable poem by Alice Notley assuring us that "I'm fucking lazy unskilled and you deserve your money". Hands across the water!

The New Fuck You: Adventures in Lesbian Reading
Hooky title, but Bratmobile were louder AND funnier. Personal to friends seeking a hot date for Pride Weekend: Don't take any individual author's inclusion too literally. Here in the Bay Area, we're far too ironic to, like, define orientations, but that doesn't stop us from applying them to ourselves like Lee Press-On Nails -- "I can even type in them!"

Most Tragic Poet Deaths
James Stewart and Kathy Acker passing on before they had a chance to write each others' epitaphs.

Most Reassuring Poet Death
William S. Burroughs surviving long enough to become a crazy cat lady in Lawrence, Kansas, whose greatest local rock band coincidentally was the Embarrassment.

The Desires Of Mothers To Please Others In Letters by Bernadette Mayer
Mayer is to blithering what Schoenberg was to tone rows, and I loved everything about this composition except for the blurbs on the back cover. Poor, pregnant, and cage-rattlingly bored, she sums up the 1970s considerably more convincingly than Boogie Nights or The Ice Storm did. I read most of Desires... while I was back home for my grandma's funeral. My expecting, overdue, overextended sister-in-law was there, too. When I look at the book, I smell the house.

Mike and Dale's Younger Poets
Cover designs are worthy of the Pixies, but contents may have settled during shipment. The latest issue reprints an email debate in which one writer points out that "younger poets" is a misnomer and later apologizes for having pointed it out. If your '70s nostalgia extends to rioting over court-ordered busing, you'll also enjoy the part where someone complains that Mike and Dale only print white guys and then gets told that by definition there can't be any discrimination involved since Mike and Dale are only printing writers they know and like. And to think that some people say the ephemeral nature of electronic media is a problem....

Copyright 1998 Ray Davis