Thursday, March 29, 2007


Another New York School poet who would do very well to have a big, well-edited, selected poems from a publisher with good distribution (you listening, Penguin?) is Lewis Warsh. For four decades now, Warsh has been one of the prime movers of that tradition’s third generation, alongside David Shapiro, the late Joe Ceravolo, Bernadette Mayer, Anne Waldman & the ghost-in-the-machine that is Larry Fagin – that’s a pretty terrific list of poetic talent – but as central as he has been, as writer & as publisher of United Artists books & such journals as Angel Hair, Warsh seems never to have been a hustler when it comes to pushing his own wares. There is no page for Warsh at the Academy of American Poets, the Electronic Poetry Center or the Modern American Poetry websites, which is really scandalous. The best you can do, besides the link above to his site at “day job” Brooklyn campus of Long Island University, is the search engine at Small Press Distribution, which at least will get you to 11 of his books that can be had there.

One book that you won’t find listed there is The Flea Market in Kiel, published as a fine art chapbook by The Rest Press, the micropublisher founded by Patrick Masterson & Ryan Murphy. Like a lot of Warsh’s best work, Flea Market is quiet, observant, meditative. In spite of the allusion in the title to the city on the German Baltic that is known to most Americans, if it is known at all, merely as the root to kielbasa, there is nothing exotic in Warsh’ content, much of which could as easily be set in Kiel, Wisconsin:

My dental insurance doesn’t cover my family.
But today I found out I can borrow on my retirement plan.
My heart is still beating, but I don’t know for whom.
For an encore, I’ll sing “Some Enchanted Evening”
or “Up on the Roof.”

It’s remarkable just how much context can be gleaned from these four simple sentences, not the least of which is the tension between the image of family in the first line & the lovelorn tone of the third.

Many of Warsh’s poems apply techniques that may have origins elsewhere, as the one above does the leaps of surrealism. One can imagine poets as diverse as Bill Berkson & Robert Bly using this same four-part exoskeletal structure & coming up with something very different. In the following, I certainly caught the Pound in the first line & heard the irritated tone of Jack Spicer in the last, but it was the ambience of Frank O’Hara, rising up almost as an echo, that lingered the most:

And then Diana Ross & The Supremes were singing “Stop! In the Name of Blub

But as I was leaving the theater I realized I could no longer understand the words

Because all of the people in the audience who were singing along

Or possibly we can say it was a faulty sound system

Or more to the point maybe all the words began to blur in my head.

The way people look alike when you see them from a distance

So the words & the sounds never convey the same meaning

Or when I thought they meant something it was really the opposite

The glitter in Diana Ross’s hair, for instance, or her dress which consisted

Of thousands of tiny sequins (blinding, really, as she tottered onto the stage)

Each sequin a tiny mirror reflecting the sun, the stars & the planets

That make up a galaxy where existence is a bad dream

From which you wake up in a cold sweat, hair matted to the sides of your face

The indentation of your head on the pillow –

Diana, shut up.

Here Warsh uses the additional spacing between lines to permit him to stretch them out without seeming somehow dense as he builds this satire predicated on two different O’Hara poems, “The Day Lady Died” & “Lana Turner Has Collapsed!” His image of Diana Ross as “tottering” turns tragedy into farce – and recalls, as much as the tone of the last line, the way in Spicer characterizes the Beatles as corporatist bubblegum rock in Book of Magazine Verse.

Each section here is built with such care, deliberately aimed at limited effects, but with an overall cumulative impact far more powerful than any of this book’s individual sections. That seems to be a particularly Warshian virtue.

Flea Market is printed in an edition of 350 copies, exquisitely produced by Masterson with great attention to detail & a clean design. Ryan Murphy, who co-founded A Rest Press with Masterson¹, told me that his Ori is the New Apple Press, which does editions of just 75 copies, can only be reliably found at one bookstore – McNally Robinson Booksellers in New York’s SoHo, a purveyor with an active interest in small and independent presses. Given that we’re about to embark on our annual Bad Poetry Month, it might be worth your while to check out a store dedicated to something more than the lowest common denominator. Hopefully you will find The Flea Market in Kiel & give it a good home.


¹ Making me wonder if the shift from A to The Rest press is an indication that Murphy’s no longer directly involved.

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