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Poetry that tries (too much) to shock

poetry

“The poets! They’ve destabilized/explored a concept previously unspoken. We are all so proud of them.”

This is the general outline of F**k Poems: An Exceptional Anthology, edited by Vincent A. Cellucci. As the resolution increases, individual paragraphs come into focus and we learn that, by charting the surface of one of America’s dominate points de capiton, the anthology is unraveling (or reimagining) contemporary assumptions of sexuality.

Another paragraph focuses on the reliance of cliché to diagram the patterns associated with modern menageries (N.B.: the cliché is in again). A third paragraph meanders into the dicey territory of reviewer biography, and as I’m plagiarizing Nabokov’s lesser late erotica, everyone is too distracted by guessing at the fashionable neighborhoods in which the poems’ events have transpired. When you return from the rest-room (Les Miserables poster above the bowl, because who doesn’t need to stare into Cossette’s forlorn eyes when taking a piss?) everyone’s eyes have glazed over and the conversation has reached its natural resting point: real estate prices in New York.

After the occupation of the Sorbonne in May 1968, many of the hoary professeurs lent their support to the student movement. Accounts emphasize the shift that occurred in one week, from staunch opposition to the riots to full support. One can imagine Academia stage-whispering: “Quick, look radical.”  Last week (June 29) marked 34 years since the New York Daily News, covering the Stonewall Riots, ran a front cover image of young gay men fighting the police outside of Christopher Park. Now – 2013, in case you’ve lost count – a particularly smutty poem titled “F**king with Frank” ends with the lines “My pocket is nagging / with a text from my wife.”  One cannot be blamed if one is bored.

The editor asks of the anthology, “Do you dare own it?”  The construction is bold. It reminded me of Time magazine’s recent cover, “Gay Marriage Already Won,” in bright letters over a couple kissing. The knee-jerk response to the cover, given the imminent demise of the magazine as a source of news, is an almost protective pity. The editor of this anthology seems to ask for the same deal: “You pretend to be bold and we’ll pretend to be radical.”

The bargain would be defensible (I like things that make people happy) if the sacrificial lamb were something worthless, like the print magazine, and could be easily re-purposed after its demise. However, the form of poetry deserves slightly better treatment than, as Jack Spicer would have it, “tiny crystals of dying for the wealthy.”

The writers of F**k Poems are writing in the form of the confessional – or, in modern parlance, of the psychiatric office. Such poetry has become a repository for directionless personal history which, when mixed with equal parts philosophical ambivalence or aesthetic ornament, become approved and consumable media. The petit bourgeois is titillated. They are shocked when they read about hairy assholes, but they remember that membership in the avant garde is not cheap.

All this being said, some of the poems are quite excellent. And though the project is pretty much a bullet in the back of the sexual revolution, the anthology certainly contains a pretty top-notch line-up of writers (among others).

This review by Eric Vande Stouwe is reposted from Press Street: Room 220, a content partner of NolaVie.