Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook 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). His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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Bum luck means luck gone busted, flat broke with a stubbed toe when news of the bench warrant comes in. Bum’s luck signifies some interruption of all that, the bum in question just happening to stumble upon a minor miracle, savoring it all the more as a reprieve, a sprinkling of starlight even in the abyss. Bum’s luck is one theme Cole celebrates here, that taste of lagniappe steak after weeks of nothing but rice. The relish of hunger: for food, for sex, for laughter, for sleeping in rehearsal for a time when we’ll no longer be able to repeat the shortlist above.
Relish in the wake of the discovery of some small change isn’t the same as revolution, and that thought occurs throughout these pieces, putting a tinge on celebration of loaned couches, sofa beds, and crash pads. Society, lulled by television, locked into clichéd narrative ruts—but it’s the dependence on money, the enslavement to the economic system, that really gets the goat of these poems. Even funerals come with debt: “graves so expensive / our grandchildren will never / pay off the debt.” “I was trapped,” one narrator says, speaking for plenty of them, explaining the particulars of a traffic stop that quickly turns into a Kafkaesque set of restrictions and surcharges. Still, there’s only so much time, and fantasies about burning the whole stage set down aren’t nearly as satisfying, these poems suggest, as taking succor in available pleasures, whether sexual (to “slither down and pull back her shorts, / fill my mouth with her work-a-day sweat”) or intellectual-mystical, with a toke of chemical enhancement: “I can’t remember which street to take / to get onto the freeway” but “I know that way to the sea. / I know the basic declensions: / Ille, Illa, Illud... / the musical language of the universe, / the covalent urge that brings us face to face, / in rooms, in bars, in universities, / laughing in quadrangles / and mathematical streets.”
The troubling tension here is between the claustrophobia and crushing oppression that defines the day-to-day, where “those days you want” are defined, via negativa, by “Nothing dire to report” and the liberation experienced in simple gestures, presented here as a radical break in the overcast mood (a “waitress nearby with nebulae eyes [who] smiles such gravity and advertisements for love”), and yet remains just that, a break, a pause from the grinding, tragic, unjust trajectory. As a reader, one cannot help but identify with the defiance, here, that “when you hit bottom” you yell “yes,” but once you put the poem down, it’s the portraits here of the trap of the system that really stick around.
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