Friday, September 11, 2009

Book Review: Anselem Berrigan - "Free Cell."


Anselem Berrigan's Free Cell is a book-length poem divided into three parts -- "Have a Good One," "Let Us Sample Protection Together," and "To Hell With Sleep." It is his fourth book of poetry, and it's published by City Lights. "Have a Good One" invokes Stephan Mallarme's "Un Coup De Des Jamais N'abira Le Hazard," even meta-name-checks it as the reader goes through the verse ("Production values / among other grandchildren / of Mallarme), where he encounters unexpected puns (Must we demand / of our pop tarts / a public crack-up / during war time?), jokes (Kingfisher sighting sparks / epic stroll), lines that strike us ("I'm micromanaging nausea," "Monolithic derelict fuck."), neologisms (droolsultory, public meltups), and then there are the thetic chunks (and my apologies in advance for not being able to directly copy the type-setting):

... when
zombies lose their appe-
tites can we rehabilitate

'em back into the game?
I sympathize with the
difficult people, why
should transitions be
seamless, Sylvie hates to
go to sleep, no she hates
the "go" part & so do I

awake, smiling toothlessly
at our anti-lyric non-concepts
our pro-war liberties, our
embrace of our own private
communiques besieged
for, like, happiness of
a minor place's kindling.


I don't want love or remorse to follow
I want them in the way, things to burst through
corollaries to be roped and tackled
by surprise, get killed, and thank you. One fate
transforms into another, but I won't
touch that bandaged story. I won't belong
to this scripted conversation, though I
may play along.

Outside of Mallarme, one possible suggestion for how "Free Cell" wishes itself to be read (as in, how it defines its aesthetic parameters; to say, 'This is where the text will go') is contained, simply, in this: "Liquify our symbols."

It is a book designed to be read melodically, in and of itself, and that is something a review can't fully convey.

And but, and yet, and still: this is a smart, strong book, and it's well worth your time.