Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Linh Dinh

If you're looking for a simultaneously perverse, hilarious, depressing, experimental and formally elegant contemporary poet — and I don't know why you would be, because I don't know why you'd think you'd ever find one — let me recommend Linh Dinh to you. I just finished his 2007 collection Jam Alerts, which I've had for a while but just got around to reading. He has a bit of that Language poetry/flarf compulsion to hit you with the grodiest possible diction ("barf," "fizzin'," "jizz," "hump") without abandoning the high ground of academic mastery (sonnets, quatrains, iambic pentameter, fancy enjambments). But he has a much sharper controlling critical intelligence: his poems are pointed and disturbing in a way that nothing I've read by Bernstein et al. have been. Actually the poet he reminds me of most (not so much formally, but in spirit) is mid-period William Carlos Williams, the observational Williams of An Early Martyr, "the anarchy of poverty / delights me" and so forth. They have a similar transgressive sweetness, an unsentimental attraction to human grossness, coupled with a strong radical streak. In Linh's case, the anarchy that delights him is Internet porn, Iraq war statistics, text message syntax, sex tourism come-ons, broken English, plain narcissistic loneliness. It's often not clear whether his use of this stuff is satirical or lyrical: sometimes he's mocking or despairing about American culture or politics or language, but much of the time he's just swimming around in it. Plus his verse really moves; he can really pull off the traditional meters and stanza forms, without being too showy about it.

I'll hold off on more substantial criticism, because this has nothing to do with anything I'm supposed to be doing, but here are two fairly representative poems:

Instant Replays — Bolus or Eternal Returns?

162 bullshit happenings a year. First thing each morning,
I must check out the bullshit reckonings, even before I had
A chance to shoot, shower and shave. I can't start my day
Without knowing what happened last night, what went down.
I'm a team player, don't you understand? It's not about me.
If my bullshit logo won, then I'm vindicated — I'm half alive,
Sort of, for a minute or two, tops. If it lost, I'm nothing.

Nature Freaks

Sometimes I forget that this world came
From fresh herring, that these people came
From solid herring stock. Lovely Bianca Black

Will soon be wedded to one Chien Meow, I see
Very clearly now how herring has brought us all
Together, under the lych gate, waiting, as always

For the damn priest to tuck away his sin, before
He lowers us, one by one, into the bog, minus
Our blameless nuts and titties.