Monday, July 19, 2010

My Index Of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge

Well now, here's a man after my own heart. At times, in this terrific collection of poems, Paul Guest seems to be channeling my very thoughts, or at least their velocity. After hanging out with a bunch of poets at the Colgate conference, I came home with a verse jones, and found myself with Rhian last week at the Strand in New York, where, while wearing pants one size too small (don't ask) vowed not to leave the poetry aisle until I'd found at least two excellent new books by people I'd never heard of.

I didn't quite make it--this is the only one I found. (I bought another, but it was by somebody I'd heard of.) These poems are earnest and manic and a little bit inscrutable, which is precisely what I like. Sometimes they remind me of Dean Young; they mostly remind me of Ed Skoog. And at their extremes they evoke the recent John Ashbery, who has been a bedside companion for weeks.

The title poem, which stands at the book's center like a drain, is a stone cold classic that I will be xeroxing and mailing to people for years to come. It's one of those crazy tours-de-force that fixes the deeply personal into a firmament of wild American randomness, like Whitman (note: one letter away from hit man) or Ginsburg. It's funny and painful. You get "sweet, sweet Crisco / coursing the byways of my broken heart," a boldly corny riff if I ever read one. Or "Strangers who stopped me in the street / or paid for my lunch / or wept over their dead son / or asked how many miles / in my wheelchair I could go. / The twenty-five miles in five hours / that would take me nowhere / except the car plant or pet food factory / the wind at night / would bring to everyone."

Man, I love that. Guest has a couple other collections and a recent memoir, check him out.

8 comments:

Hope said...

Intriguing ... although I was maddened by Ashbery in college and still have not gotten over the PTSD. This book sounds cool.

jrlennon said...

What maddened you about Ashbery? I find his enigmatic nature kind of liberating...though not all the time.

Hugo Minor said...

This book is available on Kindle for iPhone. I've been looking for a poetry collection to read on my phone for the first time. I'm downloading it now and will see how it goes reading it on the train to work!

jrlennon said...

I haven't commented yet on Kindle books outselling hardcovers...yowza...

Hope said...

I guess because I am inherently pragmatic, the whole Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror just pissed me off. Plus I was like, 20. I should probably try some Ashbery again.

bigscarygiraffe said...

his later stuff is a little less convex

Hugo Minor said...

Hope, I think I told you about a reading I went to a week before the conference. This guy staged a reading of Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror for 6 voices. He broke the poem apart into phrases, lines, even words, and assigned them to different voice types (lyrical, prophetic, whimsical, etc.). It actually worked pretty well.

It was by Jim Paul from Hunter College:

http://www.lfla.org/event-detail/491/John-Ashberys-Self-Portrait-in-a-Convex-Mirror

Hope said...

You're right, Hugo Minor, you did, and I will check out that link. That memory is tied to my babysitting an ancient, dying cat named Spike for one of my classmates during spring break, so maybe that has something to do with it as well ...