BRETT EVANS' AUTOGRAPH:
AFTER SCHOOL SESSION
I don't know Brett Evans. I don't know much of anything. I know Evans wrote the poems in the just-published collection After School Session from Buck Downs Books/Sub Press Collective--a sprightly, handy paperback, digital color on the glossy cover with blue-jay stamps and letter postmarks and unusual female statue and sports event grandstand collage. I know these poems were written in the early to mid nineteen-nineties, `in a time and place where there genuinely seemed nothing doing', as an exchange, somewhat telegram on-the-run--'type something, glue it on the card, mail, repeat'--at the same time that Evans was presumably painstakingly inscribing other primary elucidated bound volumes.
I say I know this. I don't know it for sure. I'm told this in the book's introduction written by Buck Downs. How do you know anything? The logical positivists claimed that you knew something if it could be empirically verified. A lot of people considered this a respectable notion. But I think now that `empiricism' relies too heavily on visibility. For some reason, I'm no longer under the sway of what I see--humble houses heavily draped in American flags and Christmas decorations. Empty streets. Closing down shopping centers with new ones opening up next door. Does empiricism verify anything? What if you wanted to know whether a politician was honest, if he were a good politician? Empiricism verifies what can be verified, and that doesn't seem like much.
Poetry is evidence of things unseen. It is evidence of things unseeable--qualities, ineffability, qualities of word usage, qualities of various people, peoples, truth, the `twenty', the future, bread, love. What is visible blocks vision. It certainly is true that something can exist and still be unseen. I've never seen Brett Evans. But I know he exists. After School Session gives evidence of this. I've never seen the little pieces of lead in a pair of loaded dice. But I've seen plenty of evidence that they're there. I have compunction about bringing God into the discussion. But it does seem a legitimate question that the positivists asked: If God exists why doesn't He come down to earth from wherever the heavenly realms have opened up for business and strut around once in a while, bring an end to some conflicts that seem to be dragging on? What's keeping Him from thoroughly whacking humanity for unerringly locking its emotional keys in its Wittgensteinian (improvised Black music) car? Why isn't God visible?
Not that Brett Evans--or poets in general--is comparable to God. But allow me to ask: Why does Brett Evans write poems that are verbal lint? Why does he jump into his linguistic saddle and ride like a borderline illiterate Billy the Kid to rob sugary oratorical savings and loans, hiding out in the moonlight from Big John split infinitive law? What makes him reach for his typewriter as soon as the boss turns his/her back to dash off spitball ad-hoc wads of inanity? What makes him do this grimly, religiously with thoughtful meticulousness? Not only behind the boss's back but it would seem behind his own back. What makes him mount the sovereign rostrum with a heavy heart, tears rolling down his cheeks, and deliver this perplexing edict--'poop-poop a doop' and `a great big wet umpah-umpah'? Somewhat apropos of God, why is Brett Evans invisible?
my head a mucking
phlegm factory white in green
i wd. like to set
For you a viscous jellybean
bowl full of emerald ouches
bombay sapphire opals &
but I'm just a thumbprint
in this snotology
it's the orange
that keeps me going
like a real man.
The real warmth
of the furnace & the late
night widow smoking
one cigarette after
another. Our worlds
collide but they ain't
the same world.
Matthew Arnold used to be called something like `the angel of sweetness and light'. Brett Evans isn't exactly the angel of sweetness and light; at least, in these poems, he doesn't seem so on the surface. He's more like the angel of mass confusion. The angel of holiday waste reduction. The angel of paltriness. The problem with the angel of sweetness and light was that he made things a bit hard for the other angels, such as the angel of objection, the angel of child labor laws, the angel of liberation. His sanctimoniousness caused them to stumble. So the other angels got together and decided they were going to do things in a different way.
The reason God isn't visible is because he tried being visible and it didn't work. Nobody believes miracles. They believe them for a while, but then they have to see another miracle. Pretty soon they're bored with everything. His light caused blindness. He also tried whacking humanity and that wasn't so successful either. The result was a race of sadistic, moronic autograph seekers. Methuselah `walked with God'--and probably walked off afterwards to sacrifice to some idol or other. God finally said `that does it'. So He `went away' from his handiwork. He slinked around in the shadows with His faithful Indian companion disguised, like the Lone Ranger, as an old reprobate. Once they couldn't see God, people started to behave in ways that were more to His liking. They began to do things and think things for themselves. They were more considerate. They didn't turn their backs on each other. They didn't turn morality into a murderous, stagnant legalistic reign of deception that starves its own constituency.
At the solstice of global transition, the transformation of everything and everyone, things get pretty bizarre. Let's admit it: Wars are to some degree an attempt to achieve peace and quiet. Not that there isn't a life-and-death struggle taking place. A true outlaw--John Dillinger or Papillion for example--sees himself as diametrically opposed to everything that is established, everything visible. And why shouldn't he/she? Jesus himself said that not one stone of the old world would remain standing. To the mutant sense of duty of a John Dillinger doing anything that wasn't criminal would be hypocritical. It would add to the corruption--of strength, virtue, values. For a Dillinger everything is unresolved, temporary. (I believe that Dillinger's famous life of crime in fact lasted only a matter of months.) Money, marriage, where you stay, family, longevity--these things have value no one can be allowed to know.
Evans' After School Session is the same way. It is inspired by boxtops, junk mail, memos, anything scorned, temporary, untaught, discarded. Nothing is made or accomplished. The precious privacy we breathe is economized. No statement is given credence enough to form a piece of cardboard. The use of language is hidden from imitation.
even tho it seems the whole
world cuts down its oak trees
we share in light composed of hair
tabled legs under cloth this Moment
It seems true that in dealing with life, in some cases, at times--and I don't say always, since this light be a case of a law violating its own teaching--you inform someone about something by keeping quiet about it. In these poems Evans is on the run from those that are anxious to abdicate responsibility in life--i.e. the responsibility to learn something from it. He doesn't want to perform the offering for them. He'd like them to have some sentiment of their own. Evans is attempting to teach morality without saying this is right and this is wrong. He is doing so by giving the most hinted-at sense of it he can. He plants his atomic seeds in the air and, like an spawning elect fish, immediately abandons them. This is the way they are born into reality. His evidence of his concern is that he is invisible.
The interesting thing is that this troublesomeness, this frustrating of hope for closure of character isn't performed as a service to the authorities or society in general. In this manner Evans' poetry is better than John Dillinger's gangbusters. Why legitimize banks? Why provide a cause for what is perishing? Why do your allies the disservice of letting the lady in red set you up for the dirty coppers? Evans isn't sending these fortune cookies to just anyone. He's sending them to his best friend.
Perhaps--but no way of knowing except to ask him (but he isn't here to ask so I guess we'll have to just do our best while we wait till that blessed day)--Brett Evans would agree if he were here that when the disgruntled angels convened in protest of the angel of sweetness and light that their new invention was the novel. No more sweetness and light. Only a rising contrast of one flawed character against another. No bon mots or easy answers, only insoluble human drama. Perhaps, also, he would want to concede that poetry doesn't have to be quite so down-and-dirty as he has written it in After School Session. A time might be coming when people will consider ambivalence a luxury they no longer want or need. Of course, that time may have also come and gone. I look for a poetry that is close to prose, that permits a lot of what might be called content. A plainness or purity of style positively generic. As they say, you never know. Or do you? I'd like to note that the sum of these poems is not merely a matter of coincidence but also of masterful skill. These poems have a lot more put in them than they seem to at first.
The logical positivists proved well enough that you can't see God (no God here Marlin), so they concluded He didn't exist. What a ridiculous conclusion. What expert meanness. I guess they never made it out to the lake camping in those days. Or couldn't get their verifying machines out of the garage. God's distinction is inimical to verification. It's funny the direction writing seems to be headed: Like the vaudeville routine of closing one drawer and another drawer popping open. Will language ever pass this barrier? To some degree, it won't. The disinterest in posterity becomes honorable. Mistakes are temporal. Evans didn't ask for these poems to be published. But they have been. Out of all that, it's these poems that have lasted. Could he have written them any differently? Or any better?
coursing over cut
asparagus spears contain
my ashes I'm tired rain
tired of learning so much
equipment & crazy people
where is this genuine taste
AFTER SCHOOL SESSION
Buck Downs Books/ Sub Press Collective
Reviewed by T. Hibbard