Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Some review of Poncho Peligroso's 'the romantic'

Poncho was kind enough to let me have a PDF copy of his forthcoming book, 'the romantic,' which I read and said some little things about on twitter & gchat. But I would also like to say some things here, so I will.

I chatted with him, before he sent me the book, about Tao Lin and some other stuff, and one of ways he presented the Muumuu House aesthetic was in opposition to what he called David Foster Wallace's maximalism. I don't think this is necessarily something he came up with but it stuck with me, and it has helped me to think around it while I'm going back and thinking about certain things. I feel sort of compelled here to say that I would tend, if this bifurcation is to be taken generically, to put myself in the DFW camp; that is, I would say that I feel like something of an outsider on the whole minimalism front. And being someone whose only sustained & radically personal engagements with poetry are probably Shakespeare's The Tempest, Milton's Paradise Lost, and Petrarch's Canzoniere doesn't make me feel more at home either.

While, on the face of it, Poncho's poems seem very similar to Tao Lin's, I think it shouldn't be too hard to grasp that they are not really at all. Perhaps that's swinging a bit wide; I just mean to say that the style bears the mark of influence, but not pastiche. Perhaps its enough to simply note that I felt it was interesting enough a point to bring up, without dwelling on the particularities.

What struck me most strongly in 'the romantic' was the motif of dust. One can easily imagine, in a collection like this (young male autobiographical poems tracing the aftermath of a break up), the incredibly shitty way this sort of image might be handled (or if one can't, then simply picture two college-aged white kids, one teary-eyed and brokenhearted, saying, "I just don't know what to do anymore..... its like all I can do is watch the dust settle...." and then writing a book of poetry around it). What 'the romantic' does, on the other hand (it seems to me), is refuse any such structural sentimentality; and in so doing, it allows this figuration to rise up out of the poetry itself, and hover over it delicately. The dust, coming not from the paratext, but from the benign acne-stopping nanobots ("men fall to powder casually as they / go through their morning rituals / for a moment their skin is smooth / then it is too smooth / then it is gone / then their skulls are smooth / then they are also gone") or the unburnt library of Alexandria ("if they had only studied / the thankfully unburnt / library at Alexandria / and someone takes down a scroll / and the scroll turns to dust") or even the transfiguration of the computer screen to pixels, thus creates for itself a sort of purposefulness, without resorting to cheap metaphorical trickery.

The most interesting moment, for me (as opposed to sustained figure or something), was the poem "snail shell escape artist." I know (am pretty sure) that this poem is about Liam, but I naturally approached every one of the poems in the collection as though they were about Poncho. Because the subject is never identified in the poem, except in the title, I had nothing internal to the poem to privilege one of these readings over the other - so when I started reading, the both of them were operating. I simultaneously "knew" that this was another in the series of poems about Poncho and some absent girl, and that it was a poem about Liam. So with both of these understandings bidding for dominance in my head, I read the poem, and realized how heavily I had been relying on certain extra-textual constructs in making sense of the whole thing. It was really weird.

Through Poncho I also became sort of familiar with a guy named Steve Roggenbuck, who I don't know at all. He just released a chapbook which I also got to read. I thought it was interesting (and worth mentioning here) because of the way in which it differs from Poncho's 'the romantic.' The chapbook starts off "i dont care about reading a poem / who do you think i am, robert frost? / i have never been in the woods and i hate walking," and only gets (to my mind) more subtly allusive from there. A poem like "if you call me, i wont answer / i am sitting under the moon inside of a wheelbarrow" can't help, to me, to bring up Williams' Red Wheelbarrow (although this puts me at the risk of sounding like one of those assholes who "protest too much"s at everything he reads). Which is not really to say much of anything of substance about the work, much less the literary pedigree of the author, so much as it is a way of bringing back to the fore what was always really there in the first place; the way that these things are all about words.