Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). Dew is also a regular reviewer for Rain Taxi Review of Books. His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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Amidst the “barbeque smoke ... beer and warm flesh” of a Memorial Day picnic, a poetic voice muses on the dead, on war, on torture, not heavy-handedly (though the book comes with a didactic preface that seemed unnecessary, like mouthwash before liquor), but clearly the product of a certain kind of tensile mind, wary in the wisest sense, unable to hang out need sizzling meat without thinking about meat and what meat means, various manifestations of meat, its uses and abuses, motivations and ends. Consider the poem “College Transcript,” arranged something like a report card, with “Brain” and “Cunt” and “Fist” and “Liver” annotated via important lessons learned, i.e. next to one “Brain” listing, the tidbit “Mohammed’s outspoken favorite wife greatly influenced the creation of Islam,” while below that, paired with “Cunt,” we’re told merely “Word gets around.” Or consider the poem arranged as a kind of “pecha kucha” (identified in the notes as “a Japanese business presentation methodology in which the person presenting the pitch pairs twenty-second speech segments with slides”), giving quick definitions for essential terms—“key,” “smasher,” or “frame sewing,” which is glossed thusly:
The English language has several fine idioms for planning ahead. Many involve birds. This romanticizes the concept of organization for drunks and wild children, both of whom have a tendency to lie on their backs and look at the sky.
The narrators in this book—or narrator, perhaps, singular but multitudinous—weaves a hyperanalytical political sensibility with a wry wit and a penchant for juicy pleasures. The poems here are manifestations of equal parts brain and cunt, spleen and fist, ranging over love affairs and “keloid history,” the past worn in the flesh. “Sometimes I’m a black,” says the narrator of one poem—“Black Humor.” “Not everyone realizes / blackness has to be conferred upon you / again and again,” says this narrator who ends her thoughts with the declaration: “Look how much poem I’ve made / without mentioning lynching.” To see beauty in Detroit, in sleeping skinheads, but see these things each for the fullness of their tragedy and threat, that is the mark of a poet. Yes Yes, as a slam performer, can kick into that jagged performance rhythm—see “Questions of Sexual Intelligence,” a poem that syllables of which virtually bob and weave as they are read—but many of the pieces here are built to according to a different architecture, as, for instance, a longer poem that employs lines, in italics, from the final notebooks of Albert Camus. Then there are pieces built around a conceit, like the transcript piece or a brief one-sided interview (answers only) of Pussy Galore.
Poetic chops, even political chops, cleverness, verve—these are good, impressive, make fun poems, but Yes Yes’s collection transcends mere skill in the depth of its humanness. There is, to put it plainly, compassion in these pages, a radical caring for a wide range of others—“You and your imperfect underwear,” for instance, dancing alone, away from any belittling gaze—and an open, vulnerable appreciation for fragility and concomitant grandeur of life. Flip to “Chamber Music,” for instance, a chronology of first times—“I saw a bullet wound ... I touched a gun ... I was robbed at gunpoint...” etc. At its best moments, this book will take your breath away, jar you into a new perspective, and make you realize—viscerally, the way real transcript lines get earned and learned—“taste buds shivering against homemade hot sauce. The clean joys of grass, open air and brotherhood, love me, he says, the heft of passion, the hurt of the search for the pure.”
Official Laura Yes Yes Web Site
Official Write Bloody Publishing Web Site