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BOOK REVIEW

Geoffrey Gatza
Not So Fast Robespierre
reviewed by Jared Schickling
98pp. Menendez Publishing. http://stores.lulu.com/menendez. Hardcover. US$24.99. 9781605309651 paper

This review is about 11 printed pages long. It is copyright © Jared Schickling and Jacket magazine 2008.See our [»»] Copyright notice.

A Lisping Ignatius / The Sincere, The Flarf, and The Voice of Place: A reading of Geoffrey Gatza’s Not So Fast Robespierre

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On 8/7/07 9:36 PM, “mpfix@buffalo.edu” <mpfix@buffalo.edu> wrote: [1]

> Dear Geoff,

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According to Dan Hoy in Jacket according to Wikipedia, ‘The proliferation of flarf and its hybrids recycles an industrial era excitement over human “progress” with no hesitance toward the embarrassing hubris of such a perspective.’ With its reliance on procedures like Google searches and email, flarf is the fallout from popular culture in the 21st century, the dissembling of narrative as a nonlinear function of context and control variable where spatiality supercedes temporality as the form of experience, knowing knowledge grows dependent on the terms of our search in an increasingly re-writable present, constituting the crisis for flarf and its practitioners. Enter Geoffrey Gatza’s latest book of poetry, Not So Fast Robespierre. According to the author, the working title quotes Daffy Duck, that genre-defining Screwball with a lisp made more and more anthropomorphic after appearing in the Great Depression. Not So Fast is written around town, a bizarre, multimodal retreival of a mostly first-person speaker. This fractal biography maintains as it reverses flarfist attentions, finding unmediated, authentic identity within forms of mediation. One might call it sincerist flarf.

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In the first of four sections, ‘Poetry City / Chapter Four: A New Hope,’ the charge of New Hope is given to neighbors, friends, acquaintances, institutions, while the first-person account also names the giver, implying something larger, more systemic than any one character. Andrew Joron: ‘Chance associations within the system, after reaching a critical point, undergo spontaneous self-organization. At this point, the Novum — an unexpected, unprecedented superaddition to reality — emerges.’ Whether it’s a mythical-fictional account of ‘hobo-ing it up for a spell’ in Alaska with Forrest Roth in ‘Forrest Roth’; whether it’s helping Michael Kelleher move into a new house in ‘Michael Kelleher’; whether it’s celebrating ‘That laugh’ (the totality of the poem) in ‘Aaron Lowinger’; or whether it takes ‘Bob’s Black suit’ for ‘events’ to ‘become more real’ at a Hallwall’s reading in ‘Hallwall’s Ghost’; attending the reader’s diffuse pivot is ‘Geoffrey Gatza,’ founder and editor of BlazeVOX Books, ‘Buffalo’s Johnny Appleseed of publishing’ according to poet Kevin Thurston. Multiform dictions (of confession, lie, text message, balladry, blues, ethnography, anecdote) represent diverse, interactive situations, initial conditions, potentials for place — ‘Poetry City,’ whose chorus would be the unfolding voice.  

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> Not really sure how I feel about whats going on. Such a strnage way to
> contact another person; how would I feel receiving a string of
> consolation or conciliation laced e-mails and phone calls?

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‘Would be’ — ‘New Hope’ — poem titles memorialize poets, performers, the occasional performance, partners, the occasional landmark — always something Other to the speaker, embedded in their own field of otherness. This community. Some of us grew up on the Rebellion vs. the Empire, on a Hero with a Thousand Faces. The cast out and nervous heir to greatness whose return will be a boon to the community, replacing an unjust order with something more agreeable. Here the archetype is comical. For example, ‘Matt Chambers’:

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When I think on all the fights in poetry Paul
Muldoon getting brained by Chambers with Turnbull’s collected
‘As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door, ...

For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name dingaling —
Nameless here for evermore. ...’ That’s a clever ruby wing.

             Hoping to god that he breaks that fuckers nose
                         It won’t do you know, it simply won’t

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Or ‘Tarwin Baker’:

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           the high king of wool scarves, beloved professor of tomorrow
              was asked if his poetry rhymed by a proletarian dishwasher.
how does anyone answer what their poems do but he didn’t laugh as
      I was in my corner of the kitchen. he stopped and placed his tray
            on the counter and his hand to his chin beginning a dialog of
                                                                             things that could be

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Since Charles Olson’s appointment to the University at Buffalo English department faculty, the Erie Canal’s terminus inspires time and again important poetic experiments and innovations. Such activity begins with a projective Oedipus whose love for the Father instigates whatever coup. The ‘field’ becomes hostile, recursive and incestuous, inviting the misguided heir’s corrective mediation. Which is to say the student, the reader, and isn’t corrective at all, and isn’t exactly invited. More, ‘a proletarian dishwasher’ illustrates how this will-to-power, not limited to the field of poetics, is sensitive to specialization and class. ‘but he didn’t laugh as / I was in my corner of the kitchen’: Where the economy proverbially sucks, this hasty sketch of a happening young professor-poet doubted in ‘Tarwin Baker’ (read luck), a break from left-margin justification, the kitchen-poet’s attention to the awkwardness of the situation.   

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> Do I feel that it is bullshit, yes and no. I could not be objective
> enough to go one way or the other.

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Section two, ‘The Nine Muses,’ eroticizes the project begun with ‘The New Hope.’ Gatza locates six of the inspirations in different women, such as Amy Dembski, Erato in flesh: ‘The day that the giant robots attacked / Amy saved the day by using geology.’ Gatza takes Erato’s absurd eco-warrior cue and, wielding a Y genotype, performs backdoor probes of the feminine. Wondering the reason for this move, consider what’s so far been cultivated: In part, curiosity regarding the character of the speaker, fractured, diffuse, dependent on its source in the situation, writing to the extent that it is written. And a bit politicized, our place steeped in identity politics where one ethical impulse is to objectify/classify subjective experience in order to accurately identify it and then, based on that information, disarm, invite what is Other. The isolating effect of such revelation, such culture, whether it isolates persons or groups, poets or otherwise (see ‘Tarwin Baker’), means the imperative to pursue such mysteries. As far as I can read, for Gatza the Other is the attractive, nurturing be-ing of this planet: Clio, she-muse of history, manifests in ‘Mark and Mel Wedding Poem.’ Polyhymnia, sacred poetry, manifests in Justin Sedor as the poet contemplates passive, receptive ‘lilacs that look like spiders...like spring’ that occupy their mutual attentions. Thalia, she of comedy, manifests in ‘Marty Mis,’ literate in ‘PlayStation’s game God of War’ and whose ‘poetry is golf.’ Melpomene, tragedy, manifests in ‘I have a silly nose,’ a supplication dedicated to ‘Lisa...Never once pausing / to glance at my big, / big nose.’

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> All I can say for certain is that I
> am somewhat dismayed, taken aback, maybe even a little saddened.

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Read Pinocchio — the lie — willed distortions of truth, darkest of human survival instincts, the trade-in for false ownership. Daydreams run amok in what should have been a leg for a woodworker’s table. After jesting the question of embodiment or puppetry, sensitivity or ignorance, an unsentimental Urania, muse of astronomy, manifests in the poem ‘On my 37th Mother’s day Nature revolves with death.’ On Mom’s day mom succors a dead bird beneath pressing dramas involving her son’s worried memory of a video and the ‘hedgerow that was my boyhood fort’ and the prospect of ‘new neighbors going to sue about that awful brown fence.’ Read an honest, decent son, yet elemental male, and female, in-volved, aspect of each other, parted nurturers of their own way, anti-theses who see proof, a big nose given to who he is, resistant puppet of cosmic unfolding. A Rust Belt hero championing Erato:

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To this day she is the technical agent
For Poetry’s elite strike team eleven
While running a rehabilitation farm for
igneous rocks recovering from interbedding.


                                               * Interbed
                                               Where the contact between two units of rock
                                               consists of alternating layers of each lithology.
                                               Also intercalated, interfingering, interlayering,
                                               intertongued.

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The struggle to house (embody) the cared-for situation, to write the intersubjective facts of enculturated, psychosomatic compounds, before it’s drained of the substance, permissive voice of witness — not to be right re the Arts (‘the giant robots’) but honest, local, real.   

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Indeed, there’s a literary movement afoot, The New Sincerity, which may or may not be a wording that favors confessional poetry, at odds with flarfist reactions to life’s ephemeral production from without. At its best The New Sincerity resists ‘deadening emphasis on social construction’ to perform personal accounts of eco-conscious embeddedness in the world. When worst it denies irony in fixing on agency, ignoring the agent’s condition as a subject. In such cases it succumbs to the capitalist project proposed by Eddie Bernays, founder of public relations and propagator/manipulator of Uncle Sigmund’s ideas in this country. According to Bernays, democracy is ‘the engineering of consent,’ and he represented his clients in private business by devising campaigns based on psychoanalytic theory to influence and change public opinion and behavior. See ‘Torches of Freedom’; by the 1950s his clients had made fortunes, but were worrying as American consumers were relaxing from the postwar boom. Bernays rightly argued that sales to Depression survivors with new disposable incomes could continue to grow if advertisements promoted unrestrained consumption based on desire rather than need — on the rights and dignity said to inhere in a repressed, individual lifestyle.

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At its worst The New Sincerity also looks reactionary in the wake of language poetics, prioritizing the self as an organizing term, axis mundi of descriptive grammars, recuperating personal value from an otherwise capitalized experience. A poem about getting a burger that’s worth it as such, for example. Regardless of the validity of whatever claims, in its focus The New Sincerity threatens to be a movement about bowel movements — a selfish movement. Enter Gatza’s ‘The Book of Life...attempting to show how much an observant man might learn by accurate and systematic examination of all that came in his way,’ and ‘Cataclysm 535,’ the final sections of Not So Fast.        

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> These feelings are not merely because you are my friend, you won’t be
> around, and because you got a raw deal, but for stranger reasons. I
> think, if I were Geoff, where do I go, what do I do? I think that The
> Mansion would be the only place I could be truly comfortable, being
> less-strict then other places, etc..

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In ‘The Book of Life,’ the poet writes, ‘The man is nothing, the work everything / Work is the best antidote to sorrow / a change of work is the best rest,’ and proceeds unexpectedly on a course of obsessive self-documentation resembling a re-visited list in the consideration and categorization given to each note. The notes comprise sections divided by ‘+ + +,’ flat symbols suggesting meaningless additions, and indeed it’s difficult to find the crisis as we move from one grouping to another, which might be a problem, or it might be the point.

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+ + +

Ebauchons on the white heath
Peterson ebony churchwarden
From Dublin sent from Dublin

This was my first foray into the world of Syrian Latakia.
It looks for all the world like a broken Virginia flake...

Patrick just sent that one and it’s beautiful. The pride of the collection
And a fine collection too. I have another Peterson right here, who
Was a Latvian by birth and made his way to Dublin...

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And later:

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+ + +

The danger is in becoming so seduced by the lexiconic that we
became lexiphanes. There’s no excuse for indulging in the bombastic
at any time, of course. So to finish, here is another’s story:

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The pipes and tobaccos so crucial to the character of the speaker, like the fedora and ‘green wool Belgian hunting cloak’ and stitches earned after a reading and ‘two walking sticks,’ deserve mentioning because. And why not plagiarize Murray Waldren. Accumulation triggers memory while encounter grounds the speaker; perhaps what ultimately matters is the discernable map, the grace of convergence that produces a life:

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The wicker Bridget’s cross mom gave me and made me hang up or
she would not give me the new waffle iron she held in her other hand
Is next to the broken plastic St. Francis rosary I found outside
of Jim’s Steakout. I wanted to be a priest when I was a child, would
Have been good at it except for the sex thing, but I think I would
have made a great yard-stick wielding Jesuit or a mediocre
Franciscan.

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And we intuit the barrier, the struggle of attraction to what it is or means to be ‘Gatza’ — the object withdraws and will not be owned. ‘This one is from France, that one I got in New York with Kyle. What a wild ride in Metropolis that day was. If it wasn’t for his eagle eye and good humor I wouldn’t have gone in.’ ‘The Book of Life’ reads like a meditation on the generosity of a planet, one that manages to avoid the pitfalls of self-reification and indulgence at times attending The New Sincerity.

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> Then I think of you cooking for some bastards in another local hotel
> or restaurant,

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The final and longest section of Not So Fast hones the crisis developed over the past three in typographic eruption, ‘Cataclysm 535.’ A collage of electronic messages of varied significance to a publisher; a cursive letter to a former boss; a bolded poem written by Michael Fix; a New York Times article announcing the “propitious” release on 07/07/07 of the seventh book in the Harry Potter series; stitched in italicized inquiry into the story of 535 A.D. when ‘a strange, dusky haze robbed much of the earth of normal sunlight.’ It draws on everything from ancient journals to tree-ring data to astrophysics:

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With a superb command of ancient literatures and historical records, we make
connections between the ‘wasteland’ that overspread the British countryside and
the fall of the great pyramid-building Teotihuacan civilization in Mexico, between
a little-known ‘Martian Empire’ in Eastern Europe and the rise of the Japanese
nation-state through Buddhism.

> thinking what that would be like for you. Anyway...

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As if he were looking for a precedent, Gatza’s newly unemployed present mingles with found rumors of global transformation: ‘The global chain of revolutions...[that] dramatically reconstructed the dominant world structure...were not isolated upheavals but linked events arising from the same event.’ The fallacy of the search is self-effacing as scientific method molds itself to inform theft of the speaker’s stereo speakers at work and the unpredictable, cataclysmic fallout, almost a conceit of the work; informing a publishing fiasco and the censored correspondence from one ‘Scary Gullivan’; the release of Harry Potter; absurd pages of courtly symbols; and the like; where the self appreciates the generative power of the explanatory power of a usable fiction. Various theories that attempt to account for ‘a reduction in tree-ring width / suggesting climatic deterioration, from 535/536 / with a much more serious deterioration in 539’ are considered, and the poet sides with evidence (or so it reads), on Krakatoa, a mythic eruption, almost a conceit of the work.  

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‘There is no problem big enough violence cannot solve,’ from ‘Dagger and Swindle,’ not exactly refuting the previous page’s lonely declamation, ‘violence cannot.’ A cleansing yet mangling force of nature, like situational reciprocity: Unforeseen events changing who changes it. In other words, the uncertain spew that settles in life’s spewing circuit, some luminous character recycled there. Poems of tribute and documentary evidence almost accounted as they kept accounting for the Element churning out ‘Gatza,’ the work.

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> I wrote this poem

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According to cultural reminisces, life by 1937 was a dismal, dreary thing, necessitating a new brand of screwball comic, initially manic and unpredictable. But within a decade Daffy Duck, the vigilante drawn to contrast everyman characters popular in the 20s like Popeye and Mickey Mouse, was looking more sane — and more competitive, paranoid, peevish, a gloryhound, like Sisyphus, ever more voraciously protesting the injustices done to him; this court’s jester. Paralleling a mirage cultivated in the home — colonial import, mediation of doohickeys and gadgets. ‘For as time lengthens truth is revealed,’ say the Danaids, pursued while antitheses fuck, like the increasingly inbred and withdrawn Amerikan whose good name is soured, a squatter’s bubble, its Confederacy of Dunces. ‘It’s his refusal to surrender his will to the whims of the conspiring universe that makes him heroic,’ according to Warner Bros. official website.

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Thus a lisping Ignatius mutters ‘not so fast, Robespierre,’ in ‘Schlemiel’s’ ‘ludicrous criticism that was immediately dismissed. // All things end badly or they would otherwise not end,’ before ‘Cataclysm’s’ enigmatic final poem, ‘Night of the Red Skies.’ ‘Stalking Wolf, also called Grandfather, / an Apache wise man and scout who grew up outside the influence,’ speaks from a privileged (the irony) distance to the interpreter:   

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In the vision of the Night of the Red Skies:
the third sign, the night of the bleeding stars
will become known throughout the world,

for the sky in all lands will be red with the blood of the sky, day and night.

with this third sign of the third probable future,
there is no hope.

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‘Poetry City / A New Hope’:

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The grandchildren will feed upon the remains of the dead...

The land, the water, the sky, all are poisoned,
man will live in the wrath of the Creator.

Man will hide at first in the cities, but there he will die.

> that was attached sort of for you or about you or
> something, a few months ago.

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The engine of the poet’s contemporary — the ‘lattice of reality’ acting upon him, according to Ed Dorn — his character, double-edged, trickster, the new Native, lethal yet agreeable to the reader/writer who ventures to know her vessel. According to Sarah Blair: ‘Historically sedimented sites,’ late-stage capitalism’s ‘built environment’ where ‘all that is solid has melted into air...conceptual maps predicated on clear distinctions between outside and inside, public and private, authentic and themed, become ever less relevant.’ A toxicity in which human society must live its foreseeable future pushing timely, forgotten, remembered visions to the front of cultural and personal attentions:  

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He had four main predictions
for the whole of mankind.

Whenever one vision happened, the chance of the next vision happening increases.

Two of these visions have come true.
the earth can now no longer be healed

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‘Gatza’ is there. As in Revelation: Not the whole world crashing down but what delusion rose up:

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Stalking Wolf did say that Night of the Red Skies
did not have to happen if enough people change
As one will not die immediately

This Cataclysm is different from many of the cataclysms proposed

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‘Chapter Four,’ the imperative. Where the jobless poet, taking cues from the wise man, not exactly resigned to her fate, retreats as the frontier retreats:

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An ornament of candy a warm chandelier, this place to escape
A place of fruit picking, family, winswept wanderings that made
the city hop / e ...

This is my next time and I ask too many questions
wanting to walk the beach in the mind of the man who wrote

lakeside to lakeside reflecting...

> Since you’ve left, I changed it up, I
> think I had to.


Note

[1] The italicized correspondence from ‘mpfix’ is from the book, an inserted email titled ‘Bow Hunting Fish,’ p. 69.

Jared Schickling

Jared Schickling

Jared Schickling’s work has appeared in some journals and magazines. He has two books with BlazeVOX, submissions (2008) and Aurora (2007). He has work forthcoming in Bombay Gin, Ecopoetics, and a translation of Moroccan poet Abdellatif Laabi in Circumference. He is on the editorial staffs of the Colorado Review, New American Press, and Reconfigurations: A Journal for Poetics and Poetry / Literature and Culture.

 
 
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