Friday, February 24, 2006

I knew that I was going to like World Jelly before I even opened this slim, elegant 24-page chapbook whose back cover admonishes put this poem on your shoulder. It has one of those perfect titles, the sort of combination only a few poets – Allen Ginsberg, Ron Padgett, Gregory Corso – could have imagined. And the attitude of that back cover tagline ain’t so bad either. Here is what I find on page 1:

The animal about the blossoms
sang for them in the drifting
who also matter to us

You will receive yours
beneath the blanket

It is rising rude tinting
too late to cut the year in half
sparing nothing

Come here and help me
little levee
with your lamb

There is a wandering before me
now my burdens
I believe the crazy face


Nothing morning

Resist the successful statement
almost intelligently
a nail in the wall
there hang the bearings

So that is what I do

Riders finding joy in the sunlight
on the face of the earth

Attention is
the animal behind
the immediate

Asshole serpent
write this down

The stanza is almost equated with the sentence. But not quite. There is a disequilibrium in that not quite that works wonders in keeping the poem supple as it proceeds. The first four stanzas do actually operate as sentences, but not the fifth one. Then two that are such short fragments that they leap out at you. Then the most opaque stanza of the poem, again multiple sentences, maybe two, maybe three (I can read that both ways and do, instantly). Then a one liner that is so straightforward that it casts every other stanza in this work as stylized: So that is what I do. Followed by three extremely different, confident, effective stanzas. Right down to the snarl in the next to last line, this is a poem with an exceptional sense of its own movement.

As it turns out, this is pretty typical – if there is a single word I would think of for this book, it would be elegant, a terrific combination of grace & compactness throughout. Tony Tost, of whom I’ve been aware for a few years without ever really reading closely, makes it look effortless. And, in a funny, it probably both is and isn’t. A single sheet folded into four pages that comes with the chapbook explains that

The title “World Jelly” was created by the Guided By Voices Song Title Generator…. Thanks to Tim Botta, with whom I had a very productive conversation about noun strings in GBV songs and Ginsberg poems.

And this same sheet of paper notes every appropriation, even the anti-appropriations, as with “Speech hates you too” of which Tost writes:

Perhaps this line should be in all caps. Thank you Robert Grenier.

Such care in attribution is very anti-flarfy, as we’ve been saying here of late. Tost’s post-avant is not ignorant of such tendencies (indeed, he popped up in yesterday’s comments stream), but they aren’t where he’s going, at least not quite. Although the notes sheet indicates that the book

was intentionally patterned after the poems of Chris Vitiello, the lyrics of Robert Pollard & Bob Dylan, and the haikus of Jack Kerouac

what I hear includes elements of Michael Palmer, early Ed Dorn, some flipness that I would associate with the New York School (more Padgett or Schuyler than O’Hara or Berrigan, plus some David Shapiro & Joe Ceravolo). In today’s recombinatory poetics, it’s something that is at once completely familiar – we know this poetry – and in the same moment entirely new. I’m not at all certain that this is going to be where Tony Tost is in ten or twenty years, but he’s going to have me watching now, every step of the way.