Thursday, May 19, 2005

My publicist & fantasy biographer, Jim Behrle, is writing a series of works entitled Why I Am Not Post Avant. In the process, he proves himself wrong once again. Bill Corbett’s Pressed Wafer has been good enough to publish a selection of seven of these works. You should get hold of a copy.

Jim – or Jimmy as everyone calls him – is so well known for his weblog (Daisy Fried waxed ecstatic over it in her piece on poetry on the web for the online section of Poetry magazine, of all venues), his cartoons, his antics (jumping, Jackass-style, from a rooftop onto a trampoline is the current banner sequence on the blog), his lovelorn persona & periodic quarrels with other poets, that people lose sight of the fact that he’s a pretty fair practitioner of the North American post-avant lyric poem. Dig “Detecting Flash Version”:

bring me the head of the Energizer bunny
can’t year you through the bedsheets
no touches nada, ese
I can only stand to heckle myself
you have just been married in a green shirt
and I am standing in front of your painting
and there is so much green in it
Eddie, can I be the fetus in the heart
in service of the most vicious of masters
ash raining down off the volcano today
right down to you, amino acids
no horn blowing except for danger
coming soon: laundromat

Here we have all the tell-tale signs of post-avant writing: found language, lines treated as new sentences but with a consciously anti-systematic stance, vamping on Frank O’Hara’s stylistics, plus Behrle’s own patented (and very Catholic) sense of humor. Indeed, the title of this entire series, alluding to O’Hara & yours truly simultaneously, is a deft little P-A gesture, if ever there were one.

Post-avant, after all, is precisely what happens to avant-garde writing the instant that it gets it that the old master narrative of progress is bunk & that the role of the avant-garde has naught to do with the military metaphor implicit in that term, but with a literary tradition that stretches back at least as far as Wordsworth & Coleridge & Blake, & that this tradition is understood best as a diachronic view of an ever evolving world literary community. And if you look at Behrle’s website, you can’t possibly miss just how important community is to Jim Behrle, nor how passionate he is about the subject, regardless (or perhaps because) of the rude ways through which he expresses this love. Linking O’Hara & Silliman in the title of his project without ever naming either is precisely a mechanism for specifying a sense of community across generations while maintaining a critical distance. Not that O’Hara & Silliman have all that much in common, but that’s just the tension that Behrle seems to find so compelling & wants to point to whenever he uses the first person singular.

Behrle’s wit & omnivorous approach to pop culture are his greatest assets as a poet. Here’s another sample where these are just as visible as in the poem above. This is “Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Blue is the Color of Your Baby,” a title that suggests both marketing & rigor mortis:

that arrow was meant for Natalie Portman, meow
The Taco Bell on Delancey St.
is a portal to another dimension
Winkler Grateful for the Role of “The Fonz
which is not the purpose of this letter
sorry the culture war didn’t go your way
so who’s writhing now? if it was up to you
the heavy suitcase might contain a single cherry
emerge from missile lock, audition for reality TV
I don’t see no badge and I ain’t your mama
somehow, sadly, everything ends up
*right* where you left it

Why I Am Not Post Avant is a folded broadside & has no price listed, but I suspect that a couple of bucks posted to Press Wafer at 9 Columbus Square, Boston, MA 02116 could get you a copy.