Monday, June 6, 2011

“For Lovers of Our Language”: A Review of Bradley Lastname’s Insane in the Quatrain

(the Press of the 3rd Mind, Chicago, Illinois, 2011)

I was first introduced to Bradley Lastname through his role as publisher of the early books of Patrick Porter and Robert Pomerhn through Press of the 3rd Mind, books they each sent me for review. This was early in the new millennium, when I was doing a lot of poetry writing, mail art, and corresponding with fertile-field poets like Ric Carfagna, Mark Sonnefeld, Joseph Verilli, and Vernon Frazer.

I first experienced Bradley’s writing when I was asked to review the first volume of Letterhead (Highest Hurdle Press, 2007), which was in part a tribute to Harvey Goldner, a mentor of Pomerhn’s. Lastname and his co-editors also produced a second volume of Letterhead, in which some of my own work appeared.

Before starting Press of the 3rd Mind in 1985, Lastname published 25 issues of the acclaimed BILE Dadazine dating from 1978 to 1984.

In addition to publishing over ten books of poetry and prose, he is a painter, sculptor, and collagist and to me, one of the champions of the necessity of poetry, and art, to any sensemaking the modern world is ultimately able to make.

Insane in the Quatrain is a 188-page celebration of all of the ingredients that make poetry the (albeit undervalued) powerful vehicle for socio-cultural-politic commentary and encapsulation that it is. Lastname is the master of wordplay, turning, corkscrewing, and cascading phrases and lyrical structures to produce a mixture of laugh-out-loud, thought-provoking, and at times shocking pieces of poetry.

As one would expect, there is plenty of surrealism, Dadaism, and corollary representations here, as well as a general gamut-running of language poetry styles, but what I like best about Insane in the Quatrain is how substantial it is in content as well as form, which is far from the case with many other language poets, who use the devices and mechanisms of the sub-genre as ends in and of themselves, which, to me, simply doesn’t satisfy.

Take for instance, a very short poem, “Pre- and Post-Sartori” (p. 26):

“Before enlightenment, Los Angeles smells like stale urine.
After enlightenment, stale urine smells like Los Angeles.”

It’s all the off-brand wisdom of Kerouac and the Beats with a healthy dose of humor.

That’s progress.

Although it may not to be to everyone’s tastes, I have always enjoyed poetry with plenty of cultural references, and Insane in the Quatrain offers them in abundance, from Shakespeare to Kierkegaard, Nabokov to Warhol, Richard Dadd to Brother Theodore, Godard to Geller, Artaud to Rimbaud, and Louis Althusser to Aleister Crowley. If an author and the resultant body of work is the sum of his or her experiences of observation, inspiration, and illumination, then such references are the mile-markers and landmarks that the fellow travel can visit for a glimpse behind the curtain and a first-hand dose of the referent.

It should be noted that, enjoyably, and rightly, there is plenty in the way of self-reference as well, be it by name or titles of other Lastname works.

Again, as a purely personal preference, I also enjoyed the many New World Order–type references sewn quietly throughout the poems. I’ll leave it to the (mis?)informed reader to find these little nuggets of what-might-really-be-at-work-here insertion.

“The Torso who Ordered Orzo” (22), “The Fall of the House of Gusher” (64), and “The Tournament” (110) are three examples of longer prose-poems that provide highlights of the collection.

My favorite piece in Insane in the Quatrain is also one of the last: “Quotations from Badly Steamed Lard” [an anagram of Bradley Lastname]. These are the types of one-liner sutra meditations in madness and wonder that will adorn the subway trains and abandoned brick tenements should the NWO raise the silk-spun specters of Crowley, Althusser, Dadd, and Artaud to populate the stages and lecture halls of the Party’s new places.

So go out and get yourself a copy of the latest from Lastname. It might just be one of those prescient kinds of books that are often mistaken for mere non-sense in their time.

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