Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ali Warren's Cousins

I've been catching up on my long overdue chapbook reading.

Ali Warren's Cousins (Lame House Press, 2006), has been close to the top of the stack for some time (it's now 2008, for G-d's sake)!

These are poems of a self/selves very much entangled with the social--the languages of bureaucracy, consumption, family, and material objects all move through the poems not as disruptions, but as everyday syncopations. The chapbook's title implies familial and social connection, obviously, but there's also plenty of ironic humor to go along with this interest in the material world that makes me think of a Tim Davis reading I heard in New York probably a long time ago, especially when I read lines like this one from "My Factless Autobiography": "I wrote a narrative about our collective pain / and went shopping."

But the irony in Cousins isn't quite as harsh as what I remember of that reading. (Note: I'm a fan of harsh irony, as long as it's original, so this comparison isn't a put down to either Warren or Davis). However, the way Warren's poems connect the problems of constructing a fixed identity to the material world does remind me of the more postlanguagey New York School writing of the mid to late 90s.

"Imbedded Report" is a good example of what I'm trying to describe--it's full of bodies, babies, shopping, and hints of punny psychoanalytic language. Here's the first two stanzas:

The stations are landmarks The cars haul Drives
No ideas but in organs Atoning for drives In the unerring there

Let's say infants take up arms Free-ranges begin to sag
With what greasy nonchalance is the belly full?

It warms my heart to read poems that are thinking about identity in a way that is funny and connected to the material world. It makes me think that someone still might care about French Feminist theory and have a sense of humor! There's no lyric I in these poems floating off into white space and gentle images of love, the weather, and birds. Instead, the I is going shopping, or pulling I's self (and a rotting rabbit head) out of a Versace handbag before morphing into grotesque conjoined babies and being "slated for major redevelopment." (Note: I love love, the weather, and birds, but I admit I'm bored with many of the recent poetic renderings of them I've read--a topic for another post).

This is a chapbook that makes me feel competitive in the best way.

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