Bill Lavender


Two Chapbooks from 3rdness

2 from 3rdness:

Normahl Welkings
by Zac Denton, 2004
3rdness,, $5

USA Patriot Act
by Mark Prejsnar, 2004.
3rdness,, $5


Atlanta, if you haven't heard, is the place to be these days, and not only for corporate defense lawyers and shopping center developers. The non-academic poetry scene is active, ambitious, and engaging, mostly because of the Atlanta Poets Group. Since its self-inauguration about eight years ago the APG has held weekly meetings in which the members share poems and plot insurgent poetry activities, such as Language Harm, their monthly show at Eyedrum gallery. Last spring they hosted "anOtherED South," also at Eyedrum, which drew poets from around the South for a conference on the oxymoronic concept of southern experimentation.

The APG also has a publishing wing in 3rdness, which has put out a handful of stapled chapbooks by members, including* Randy Prunty's Van Gogh Talks, John Lowther's Three Poems, the collaborative Sonnets for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the HEADSPEAK series of collaborations by APG poets and photocopy artist Repugno, as well as the two chapbooks I'm reviewing here.

It's hard to imagine a way to describe Zac Denton's Normahl Welkings, in which the descriptive functions of language have been thoroughly stripped away. As he says in "Poem for Angela Switchblade"

It makes to it to another to you,
to whasn't whiles asking for
the saim misdycal ashing. [2]

This language is not being utilized to describe something. It is rather language put on and through a trial. The strange grammatical rhythm of "It makes to it to another to you," in which the prepositions seem to serve as the unstressed poles of conceptual iambs, makes it seem for a moment that we are dealing with sound poetry, or at least a poetry in which sonic potentials are being minded to the exclusion of visual and conceptual axes. This, however, is not the case. There is a musicality being milked here but only in the service of a threatening and genuinely dangerous mystical residue. Selves collide and collude across prepositional arcs like prisoners banging cups on cell walls, plotting who-knows-what but rest assured it is nothing that's going to make your identity rest more comfortably in its posturepedic ego.

grim as it may seem,
your seams are showing-
what 'what' means,
normahlwelking, knowing [3]

Normahlwelking is the norm of the abnormal, where well-being is king but Normas walk on and off looking for bodies to apply their names to. Sometimes the voices echo like an electronic music but sometimes they are absorbed in the dead zone of patronymic discourse. Who could imagine that the author (or rather the impulse, the headless voice) of the following hadn't read James Wright?

My relation to the world is
of bone-skinned tuft of hair.

You don't merely believe you're in a ppoem. [9]

Reading this I was forced to admit it was true: there is nothing "merely" about being in this ppoem. Normahl Welkings is a frightfully engaging read, so that when you get to that unfortunate page near the end which concludes:

we're all pigs here
makes you wonder
when we'll be slaughtered [11]

it hits home with a punch that makes you wanna say anything but "wow, cool line." Actually, it might put you in a mind to read Mark Prejsnar's USA Patriot Act, which wallows a bit in Pigville itself. It seems odd that in this age of "Poets Against the War" dot org there aren't more poems along the line of "air duct to il Duce." Every poet's a democrat these days but most of them write about politics with the ineffectual reserve of a Kerry speech. It's when you realize that Democrats are fascists too that you can write:

we're crawling    along       thru  the narrow passage
    the non   passage
history  has  the shape of remember  &,  believing  the repetitions [2]

The passage, here, is the conduit, the direct line, from Bush (or whatever name you want to apply to the contemporary corporate automaton) to Mussolini and the ideal of the state in service of a fervent and tumescent death drive.

vacuousness    is the space of lift-off

after space,  there's only    money 
in other words there's only    "personal space" [3]

Maybe, if we're lucky, no child will be left behind and we'll become an entire nation of torturers. Would that be patriotic? Showing fealty to our patrias, like "William Tecumseh Sherman:"

Sherman had his headquarters two blocks
from my apartment
on what is now the site of the Carter
Peace Center [1]

These poems, like Sherman, cover a lot of territory. The complicity of our theoretically liberal icons in the current bloodbath has another look in "honk if you're living a life of quiet desperation." The title reference is to Thoreau, from Walden. "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation," Thoreau says, revealing the classist roots of Romanticism (for who would want to associate with the masses), Romanticism which maintain itself through visual trickery:

    smoke and mirrors
the circuits are
as in       update   banal
           prime timer
with   a horror in its    blanch [9]

Prejsnar is sure-footed across a wide range of poetries. The moments of narrative, caught here and there in the social/political/linguistic pastiche of the collection, ring with unexpected meanings, like this passage, the opening of "Jack Spicer:"

narrow is sloth   & dissonant is the way
   the back way, i mean,    where you
go thru an opening in the fence
     and down the stairs to the basement
& notify this verb ... [8]

This bluesy balladic passage reminds me somehow of Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan, with the symbolic content of the story rising suddenly to the surface. And despite its willingness to visit the bleakly serious side of the contemporary political malaise, this is a poetry that can also clown around, as in this passage from "Douglas Adams:"

to laff is odder than to think

minds are poised to do yr bidding
but     simplicities are like logos

you can't live & write at the same time
    cd. i please replace that truth
w. a joculatiry hidden back behind the camera? [11]

With two older chapbooks already out, it would seem to be time we saw a longer collection from Prejsnar. Let's hope 3rdness can keep this series going and we see more form the APG soon.


* other 3rdness publications include
__the APG's Separations of Webbing, Poems for No. 3 (a Dale Earnhardt inspired poetry chapbook)
__Mark Prejsnar's Burning Flags
__the APG's A.E.D (Atlanta English Dictionary)
There have been a total of almost 20 different chapbooks, in editions of as few as 10 copies.
And the following are forthcoming:
Alex Rawl's Gatsby Poems
Dana Peterson's Essential Core
Randy Prunty's Delusiveness