The Forever War

by Atticus Lish

The Forever War
by Dexter Filkin
Knopf, 2008 / Vintage reprint 2009
384 pages / Buy 1st edition from Amazon ($25); Buy Reprint edition from Amazon ($15.95)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Forever War, by Dexter Filkins. Nonfiction—investigative journalism. A journalist’s stories from Afghanistan and Iraq. Highly violent and disturbing, filled with bizarre wartime details, reminiscent of Apocalypse Now, conveying at times the hallucinogenic weirdness of wartime events (for example, the story “Blonde,” in which an American army platoon displays one of their female soldiers and announces that she is “for sale,” as a distraction to the Iraqi males in a village, thereby allowing the unit to search the Iraqis’ homes without encountering resistance). Obviously not a cheerful book. Just look at the author photo.

The book opens with a prologue entitled “Hells Bells,” describing the 2004 assault on Fallujah from the footsoldier’s perspective in terms that are not mournful but grimly exuberant—just like the heavy metal rock song “Hells Bells” (by AC/DC), which is playing from loudspeakers during the attack. We witness combat as a lethal game of tackle football, in which the marines and the journalist sprint downfield, dive for cover, bullets whip past, and a “jihadi’s head bursts like a tomato.”

After this attention-grabbing beginning, we go back in time to Afghanistan, where Filkins travelled for the Los Angeles Times in 1998. The next four chapters, respectively, cover a Taliban execution, the dissolution of the Northern Alliance, the September 11th attack in New York City, and the Afghan way of war. This brings us to Part Two of the book, under the heading “Baghdad, Iraq, March 2003-.” In the next 240-odd pages, Filkins shows us the war in Iraq through a series of scenes and episodes gathered during his work for the New York Times.

These scenes and episodes, which have the feeling of dispatches, are Filkins’ basic building blocks as a writer. Sometimes he uses them to illustrate a fairly explicit theme, as in Chapter 7, “A Hand in the Air,” which reflects on the impossibility of knowing anything for certain in Iraq, due to the language barrier, duplicity (Iraqi), self-delusion (American), and the death of truth in wartime (“Iraq was a con game”). But much of the time, there is just a story without a conclusion attached to it, as in “Pearland,” which recounts the avoidable death of Lance Corporal Miller, from Pearland, Texas. In such cases, the unifying theme is simply the war: this is what happened, this is what the author saw.

Filkins’ writing style is an effective tool for conveying wartime events: plain and direct, he lets the blood and brains hit you in the face without fancy language getting in the way. (The decapitated jihadi in Fallujah flings his arms out “like a headless Jesus.”) He uses the f-word when he wants to, but never distractingly. He has a good touch. And he is capable of inspired description, as when rendering an aerial bombing in Afghanistan: “Then, without warning, the sharp, titanic bursts, the clouds tumbling upwards, the ground moaning as if something crucial in the world had broken off and fallen away.” One of his primary stylistic techniques is fragmentation—especially the sentence fragment—used for dramatic impact. Space breaks occur every page or so. Some chapters are under a page, such as “The Cloud” (the cloud of smoke that rises when a car bomb goes off), resembling the short, stand-alone paragraph blocks of post-modern fiction. They leave you with a hollow ringing sound. At one point, he uses a list of insurgent groups’ names to create a kind of koan. This deliberate understatement and abridgement is a form of shrapnel-poetry, used to suggest things that cannot otherwise be said. He is both a straight shooter and a stylist, and neither approach is overdone.

In his direct, well-balanced voice, Filkins delivers a litany of tragedy that never gets better and seems to never end. Hopes are raised and dashed, failure and death return. The book is the chronicle of a descent, the chapter titles going from “I Love You, March 2003” to “The Vanishing World” to “Fuck Us.” Frame after frame, we witness the war’s nihilism, barbarism, mercilessness, pointlessness, illogicality, weirdness, necrophilia, waste, and failure. It feels endless, because it is. The title is perfect. For the reader, it is a depressing book, as it should be. But for the author, who lived the book, it must have been psychologically damaging.

Among the many disturbing aspects of the book, for me, is the sense that the author was subtly corrupted by the war. Filkins himself calls Iraq hell, yet he returned to it again and again by choice. The danger, heat, heartbreak, and hatred were not enough to keep him away. Describing flying in and out of the country, he says “As much as I hated arriving, I hated leaving more.” He felt he had “become a part of the place,” that he “understood its paradoxes.” In War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, Chris Hedges says that war is a powerful drug, one that Filkins may have gotten hooked on.

One anecdote in particular gave me this impression. An Iraqi whom the author knew, Abdul Razzaq al-Saeidi, whose brother was killed by Saddam, eventually managed to escape to the United States to study at Harvard University, where Filkins was completing work on the book. Filkins notes with satisfaction that, once he was safely in the United States, the Iraqi became more self-assertive, even venturing to interrupt the author in conversation. In class, when Harvard students repeated their standard formula that the war was an unmitigated moral outrage and Islam a religion of peace, Abdul would stand up and disagree with them.

This episode is presented as evidence that Abdul had recovered his self respect, his human dignity. But what is assumed in the retelling of the episode, what is packed into it, is the assumption that the war was not simply a moral outrage. Filkins seems to be saying that the Harvard students were well-intentioned but naïve in condemning the war completely, that there actually might be redeeming features to the war, things that the students in their sheltered way were unable to appreciate, but that Filkins and Abdul, and others who survived it, might understand.

This suggestion is schizoid in the context of the 337 pages of horrors to which we have just been treated. It is evidence that Filkins’ judgment has been warped.

When war survivors have ambiguous feelings about the war, stopping short of condemning it completely, all they are proving is just how corrupting war is. Those who swim in the River Styx aren’t purified, they are tainted—made weird in their inability to condemn a thing so obviously terrible. The more you study war, the more revolting it is. The entire book with its doom-ringing title The Forever War, is a powerful case that the world would have been better off without this travesty. Despite the fact that the students had arrived at their opinion of the war from a distance—possibly through politically correct groupthink—does not mean that their conclusion was wrong. I was waiting for Filkins to acknowledge this. He never did.

Maybe it is noncombatants who can best judge war, with the aid of books like this one.

***

Atticus Lish lives with Beth, his wife of 17 years, in New York. He is the author of Life Is with People, a book of drawings and captions, published by Tyrant Books.

Advertisements

The Boys from Oz

by Naomi Riddle

Australians have a history of distrust with the suburban space. It’s one that I think is far more ingrained than the ongoing American preoccupation with the suburbs. The abjection, otherness, decay and concealed violence of the suburban space, and the affect this space has on the Australian male, is an important part of the Australian imaginary. This is evident with the continuous repetition of these themes, particularly criminality and violence, in a whole host of recent films:  Wish You Were Here (2012), Snowtown (2011), Animal Kingdom (2010), Somersault(2004), The Boys (1998) and Head On (1998).

I’ve chosen to talk about The Boys and Animal Kingdom because I think that they offer a distinct and unique portrayal of masculinity: one that is on the borderline, in between the public and private, criminality and legality, contained in an uncanny domestic space. The everyday suburban space is ruptured, undone and exposed as an unsettling site for a stifling and childlike male development, categorised by violence and the need to return to the maternal. This is the common trope in Australian domestic cinema ‘which finds expression in a distorted reflection akin to a hall of mirrors; each person staring back is undoubtedly familiar, but is in some way simultaneously emphasised, concealed and misshapen.’ (Thomas and Gillard, Metro Magazine, 2003)

 

Both The Boys and Animal Kingdom have been credited with leading the resurgence of an ailing local film industry. Animal Kingdom was also been well received by the America market, with Jacki Weaver nominated for best supporting actress in 2011. Both are described as crime dramas/thrillers, and both revolve around a group of three brothers who are caught in an endless cycle of violence in the suburbs. I want to argue that these Australian brothers inhabit the suburban criminal space very differently from their American counterparts, such as those on The SopranosBreaking Bad, even Drive. 

The Boys (1998) charts the return of Brett to his family home in Sydney after being imprisoned for assault, where he seeks to reassert his authority with his two brothers, Stevie and Glen, and his mother. Following the course of the next twenty-four hours, Brett, Stevie and Glen gradually become undone, leading them to commit a brutal rape and murder. Animal Kingdom (2010) follows the disintegration of a criminal family told through the eyes of seventeen year old Josh, as his three uncles, Pope, Darren and Craig, attempt to seek vengeance for the death of their brother at police hands.

What I think is interesting is the way that both these films start from the moment of the undoing, the unravelling.  The ascent or any triumphs made by the men and boys in these films is unnecessary, deliberately excluded, and neither film shows any material success from their illegal activities: what is important is the point of decay, the decline. This is quite different from most American crime dramas that often celebrate the ascent before the fall, or those recent films looking at an unrelenting working-class masculinity such as that depicted in The WrestlerThe Fighter, and Warriors.

There is laziness, a slowness, in both these films: boredom and inevitable decay. And it is the space that the characters inhabit that is so jarring – domestic, feminine, childish. The long opening credit sequence of The Boys features this uncanny domesticity with in and out of focus objects: the television, coat hangers, light switches, and children’s toys.  There is something Lynchian about it, but it isn’t surreal or dreamlike. We are in the interior, private space, but with hysteric male inhabitants that disrupt the coherence.

The adult men in both these films are boys, adolescent, trapped in a space that they are unable to escape from, impotent, and thus resort to criminality, cyclical violence, drug use and rape. Any sense of authority is ruptured: Brett is repeatedly undermined by the women around him in The Boys, he’s called an asshole, weak, doesn’t get the respect that he deserves, whilst Josh narrates the repetitive and disabling sense of fear that constrains Pope, Craig and Darren. At the same time there is a desire, a need, to remain within domestic space: maternal and safe. It is significant that all of the illegal operations stem from the home, from their mother’s domain, and to whom they continually return. It is this unsettling and unnatural umbilical bond that is inherently linked to the failed masculinity of the boys: they are made impotent and violent through their Oedipal bond to their mothers. There is an almost sexual closeness that Grandma Smurf has for her children and her grandson in Animal Kingdom, and Brett desires after his mother and in some ways, his other younger brothers, and the rage fuelled by his mother’s new boyfriend propels him towards an inevitable violent outcome in The Boys.

This appears to be another critique of the suburban space; that it is too feminine, that a male who remains too long in this environment will be forever an adolescent, clutched by his mother, eventually desiring her. Perhaps it is this hidden horror that has led to the repeated failure of the formation of the male subjects in both films. That they have all failed in their attempt at masculine performativity; they are left without the coherent authority of the masculine subject, and as a result, can only turn inward and uneasily inhabit the household. And it is in this impotence, in this unnamed desire, within which the propensity for violence comes, to turn towards those weaker than them, in both cases, young women, and destroy this spectacle of light and femininity in a moment of unrelenting desire for power.

Much of the plot of Animal Kingdom revolves around whether Josh is going to give the male police the evidence they need to convict, but again and again Josh chooses his grandmother, his only maternal and caring figure, over any male authority.  The main premise of the film is the idea that the strong defeat the weak, evolution of a sort, survival of the fittest. Yet Josh, at seventeen, becomes strong through violence, but ultimately returns again to the womb, to the maternal: in a sense he fails, and is destined to repeat the same cycle of violence as his uncles with the final frame of the film seeing Josh in his grandmother’s embrace. Brett’s mother is ultimately destroyed, losing all her family, her only three sons, through their one violent crime. Her leniency towards them, her desire to protect them and keep them in the household falling apart, and eventually she must walk away.

This kind of maternal and family obsession underlies both crime dramas: it is what fuels the narrative and what holds fast for all male subjects. Is it specifically Australian? The very repetition of these themes across so many films suggests that it is definitely an ongoing preoccupation. And there is something Australian about the malaise, the heat, the slowness. But what it reveals again and again is the significance of the suburban affect on the male subject, a recurring preoccupation with the notion that the domestic house does something to masculinity, fractures it, ruins its formation, ultimately disabling coherence and stability. What remains is violence, violence without focus, without an end.

25 Points: Life of Pi

Life of Pi
by Yann Martel
Knopf Canada, 2001
336 pages / $15.95 buy from Powell’s

Here’s a secret: I didn’t know what to think after finishing Yann Martel’s Life of Pi.

…I still don’t.

And I was baffled when I read reviews (tons of them) saying things like “omg this book will make you believe in God,” and “after reading Life of Pi, you’ll definitely never want to eat another animal again.” What the fuck? I thought I was reading a book. Continue reading

The consolation of Frederick Exley’s grief (Briefly)

by Grant Maierhofer

A Fan’s Notes
by Frederick Exley
Vintage, 1988
385 pages / $16  Buy from Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Though not a formal review per se—a sort of dependency on the author renders me useless to approach it in some Kakutanian format to perhaps bring a notion of what will follow when the pages are opened up and the narrative begins—I still cannot think of a novel better to be explored in a few hundred words that affected me of late than Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes.

Tending to be referred to as the go-to novel for lost undergraduates (guilty, it should be admitted early on), Exley’s masterpiece is the first in a trilogy of roman a clef works of fiction describing the life of a character named Frederick Exley, who’s seen largely the same things as its author—the two books that follow are Pages From a Cold Island and Last Notes From Home; both equally as triumphant as their predecessor and in true fanatical circles are thought of as the middle and last works in an omnibus rather than a separate and lesser force than the original. I came upon Exley in the fall, which any avid fan will acknowledge is the perfect time to discover him, as much of the novel’s emphasis is on the impact of football—more pointedly, the Giants in the Frank Gifford era—on its protagonist and essentially describes him losing his mind over both a love of the game and of literature. Throughout the narrative it’s as common to have a random digression into a description of the college years of Gifford at USC—they, Exley and Gifford, attended at the same time and were lightly acquainted—as it is for him to cite the letters and journals of F. Scott Fitzgerald losing his mind when Zelda found herself bound up in an insane asylum.

“I wanted to lie hour after hour on a couch, pouring out the dark, secret places of my heart–do this feeling that over my shoulder sat humanity and wisdom and generosity, a munificent heart–do this until that incredibly lovely day when the great man would say to me, his voice grave and dramatic with discovery: “This is you, Exley. Rise and go back into the world a whole man.”

This book is as much a meditation on the rebuilding of a man’s belief in the world after having it torn away from him time and again as it is a perfect description of the human condition in the 20th century. Exley has here personified the condition both of literary men and women and of ambivalence as a general state of being for the artist of the new age. There’s a belief that in literature, personal or otherwise, when you dig deep enough into the personal you come to the universal, or the general, and a more astute observation could not be made in reference to Exley; he’s telling us the status of a life bogged down by alcohol and debt, confusion and lack of acknowledgement or creativity as a writer, and in so doing he’s giving us the state of things as they are then, now, and likely forever.

The narrative is steeped in booze and misery, loneliness and solace found only in books and a pile of the various sports pages from all the papers across the country on a Sunday in a dirty bar in upstate New York; the narrative is steeped in honesty and paranoia, fear of the future and rejection of the past, and a more honest novel I’ve likely never stumbled across.

Upon looking up his name, you’ll find very little: a few images, a few quotes, a few selections from the book and a sparsely-littered Wikipedia page informing you of biographical information (Born March 28, 1929 in Watertown, NY. Died June 17, 1992 and was buried in Watertown), won the Guggenheim Fellowship, drank like a fish, taught at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and so on and so forth. It wasn’t these facts that concerned me; it was a recent rereading of The Great Gatsby and the juxtaposition of that quote on the cover of Amazon’s copy of A Fan’s Notes (“The greatest novel in the English language since The Great Gatsby,” I believe it was) that drew me in. I ordered a copy, and after waiting several days sat down in the bathtub with a few cans of O’doul’s (I don’t drink, but it’s Exley for fuck’s sake…) and three hours later was 100+ pages deep into the book, ready to fall fast asleep only to wake the next day ready to read more.

In that month I read only four books, finishing at the beginning of the month Celine’s Journey to the End of the Night, which I’d started at the end of the summer; and Exley’s grand debauched trilogy, consisting of A Fan’s Notes, Pages from a Cold Island, and Last Notes from Home. I walked around with the books in my hands constantly, comparing everything to them, picking up copies of the newspaper to trying to read the sports pages just like Exley did each Sunday before his infamous heart attack. I became obsessed, and the obsession washed over me in a cool wave of literary excellence that I still feel buried deep in my blood today.

“Whenever I think of the man I was in those days, cutting across the nat-cropped grass of the campus, burdened down by the weight of the books in which I sought the consolation of other men’s grief, and aburdened futher by the large weight of my own bitterness, the whole vision seems a nightmare. There were girls all about me, so near and yet so out of reach, a pastel nightmare of honey-blond, pink-lipped, golden-legged, lemon-sweatered girls.”

***

Grant Maierhofer is the author of The Persistence of Crows and the weekly column A Cabana of the Mind for Delphian Inc., his unrelated work can be found at GrantMaierhofer.Org. He lives in Wisconsin and is currently at work revising a second novel for publication next fall.

A List of References in Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey

by Andrew James Weatherhead

Paul Valéry
Stéphane Mallarmé
Glandolyn Blue
Timothy Sure
Ralph Angel
Ezra Pound
Ernest Fenollosa
Roland Barthes
Gaston Bachelard
Cy Twombly
John Crowe Ransom
Dante
Barbra Hernstein Smith
Emily Dickinson
Walt Whitman
Sappho
Charles Simic
Paul Auster
Hayden Carruth
Pablo Neruda
Nicholas Negroponte
Keats
Julio Cortazar
Edward Lense
Robert Graves
Robert Lowell
Babette Deutsch
Anthony Burgess
Archibald Macliesh
James Kirkup
Anne Sexton
Andrei Voznesensky
Kenzaburo Oe
Eugenio Montale
Pablo Picasso
Vladimir Nabokov
Neil Armstrong
Alan Shepard
Edgar Mitchell
James Irwin
Alan Bean
Yeats
Nietzche
Jesus Christ
Wallace Stevens
the Dalai Lama
Maurice Blanchot
Philip Sterling
Tess Gallagher
God
Adam
Shelley
Fanny Browne
Keat’s brother, George
France
John Gardner
Hart Crane
William Wright
Aristotle
Baudelaire
Anna Akhmatova
Mayakovsky
Lily Brik
Peter Høeg
Donald Hall
Plato
Robert Hass
W.D. Snodgrass
Denise Levertov
Coleridge
Witold Gombrowicz
Dylan Thomas
Flaubert
Wordsworth
Robin Behn
Marianne Moore
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Henri Bergson
May Sarton
Emily Brontë
Toni Morrison
Jane Austen
William Bronk
Proust
Claude Levi-Strauss
Robert Frost
Isabelle Eberhardt
William Shakespeare
Auden
Melville
Dean Young
Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, Steven Izenour
August Heckscher
Rene Girard
Barbra Streisand
Bach, Vivaldi
Kandinsky
Wittgenstein
Robert Stern, Philip Johnson, and Michael Graves
Seamus Heany, Czeslaw Milosz, John Ashbery
Louise Bogan
W.S. Merwin
Galway Kinnell
Charles Bernstein
Guy de Maupassant
Bidu Sayao
Heitor Villa-Lobos
Gordon Lonsdale, William Vassall, Bruno Pontecorvo, Julius Rosenberg, Ethel Rosenberg, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, Harold Philby
Louise Glück
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Goethe
Tolstoy
Gide
Joyce
Hugh Kenner
Penelope Fitzgerald
Richard Howard
John Clare
Georges Bataille
Isak Dinesen
Heraclitus
Cecilia Vicuna
Carl Jung
Edmond Jabès
Tomas Transtromer
Colette
James Tate
James Salter
Hellmut Wilhelm
Tony Hoagland
the CIA
James Ward
Julian of Norwich
Faulkner
Roethke
Milton
Blake
Gerard Manley Hopkins
Lorca
George Oppen
Barry Lopez
Kierkegaard
John Berger
D.W. Winnicott
Georges Perec
Paul Klee
Symborska
Rilke
Simone Weil
Raymond Queneau
the United States Constitution
Pat Adams
Coach (i.e. handbags)
Dickens
Marcus Aurelius
Eliot
Rumi
Haifez
Giacometti
Heymann Steinhal
Russ Rymer
Qingdeng
Thich Nhat Hanh
Stanley Kunitz
Elizabeth Bishop
Frankenstein
Gertrude Stein
Mary Oppen
Heidegger
Charles Lamb
Li Po
Shimazaki Toson
Paul Celan
Yves Bonnefoy
Pascal
Carl Woese
Zbigniew Herbert
Emile Durkheim
Charles Darwin
Muriel Spark
Susan Howe
J.D. Salinger
Charlotte Brontë
Anne Frank
Billy Collins
Arthur Symons
Anne Brontë
Jacques Derrida
Giorgio Agamben
Kafka
Thomas Mann
Rachel Van Amerongen-Frankfoorder
Somerset Maugham
D. H. Lawrence
Thomas Merton
Thomas Hardy
George Seferis
The White Album
T. E. Lawrence
Lautreamont
W. G. Sebald
Thomas Abrams
Margaret Mead
George Steiner
Samuel Richardson
R. W. Franklin
Jim Morrison
Gaugin
Groucho Marx
Borges
James Wright
Emerson
Saint Denis
Simone Weil
John F. Kennedy
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Thomas Hood
Louis Untermeyer
Philip Larkin
Rafael Alberti
Ben Belitt
James Merrill
Anne Carson
Bernard Malamud
John Moore
Arthur Miller
Berryman
Ernest Hemingway
Djuna Barnes
Rodin
Annie Lennox
Socrates
James Fenton
Clarice Lispector
Ramakrishna
Thor Heyerdahl
Marina Tsvetayeva
Van Morrison
Richard Dawkins
Howard Nemerov
Samuel Johnson
Kurahashi Yumiko
Giacomo Leopardi
Lyn Hejinian
Carl Hiaasen
Omar Khayyam
Duran Duran
Mark Halliday
Jill Rosser
Natasha Sajé
Joseph Goebbels
Matthew Zapruder
Spinoza
Albert Burgh
Anke Kriske
Robert Walser
Kathe Kollwitz
Dmitry Shostakovich
Arnold Ludwig
Anna Schuleit
Samuel Pepys

Book was sweet.

The Best American Review of the Best American Poetry 2012

by David Fishkind

I flipped to five poems in the anthology at random and wrote five sentences about each one.

1. “Hate Mail” by Carol Muske-Dukes
I can’t tell if this poem is supposed to be ironic or reflective or pissy. It doesn’t matter though because the poem doesn’t matter. It explores some really wack-a-doodle subjects such as blimps, the ozone layer, pigs flying, uses the words “whore,” “God”  and “honkers,” and even references the completely relevant world of l33t culture, inserting “btw” in the middle of a line. I don’t care about either side of the phrase “Queen Tut”—I just don’t care. This poem is trying so hard to be funny, controversial and current that it feels used up and desperate.

 

2. “The Imagined” by Stephen Dunn
This poem is from The New YorkerThe New Yorker is an important magazine published in New York City for self-proclaimed intellectuals to write about how human interaction is complex and deserves lots of insightful debate and deliberation. This poem studies the boring obvious fact that people objectify their love interests by holding them up to impossible standards and maintaining a severed false sense of how people “should” be about as resolutely as the guy looking at a butterfly with his monocle. It seems appropriate that poem titles are put in quotations rather than italicized. This poem was thrown together in half an hour by the toilet, one hand on a greasy MacBook keyboard, the other tugging away at a purple blistery member.

3. “Healianthus annuus (Sunflower)” by Amy Glynn Greacen
This poem combines the wonders of natural beauty with the strict and tireless logic of math. How could the two ever coexist!?!?! I just feel lucky that Greacen gave me the translation of that pesky Latin in the title, for truly I would’ve been lost amongst the deeply archaic references to… plants growing. I really can’t believe I have to write another sentence after this one. Okay it’s over.

4. “Pill” by Bruce Bond
IN THIS POEM BRUCE BOND TALKS ABOUT DRUGS AND NATURE. DID YOU KNOW THERE IS A THING IN AMERICA IN WHICH PEOPLE TAKE DRUGS AND ARE AMBIVALENT? NOW YOU KNOW BECAUSE THIS POEM SO NICELY CAPTURES THAT REALITY IN SENTIMENTAL LANGUAGE. ADDICTION IS A PROBLEM AND SOME PEOPLE TAKE DRUGS AND BECOME ADDICTED TO THEM AND THAT BECOMES THEIR SENSORY OUTLET. ALSO DID YOU KNOW THAT NATURE IS A COMMON SUBJECT MATTER IN POETRY?

5. I kept cheating on this one and kept looking at different poems and reading some of them so I just decided to make this one about the only other poem titled “Sunflower” in this anthology (by Larissa Szporluk)
This poem is short, simple and comforting. Things like “hooligan owl” and “dusk in your scalp,” which appeared in the first stanza, gave me a good deal of anxiety, I’ll admit, but it redeemed itself. The speaker basically tells you to shut up about thinking too deeply about nature, time and death—the only things most other poems I’ve seen tonight seem to value—”better not listen / to a thing with a stem.” Also I realized that it explicitly points out a major problem that occurs so much throughout the anthology: “Love without pride / is a love with no end.” That’s the ideal form, I guess, in my opinion, though I am happy, at least, that the other poems did.

I DON’T WANT ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE INTERNET by Sophia Le Fraga

by Melissa Broder

 

 

I DON’T WANT ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE INTERNET
by Sophia Le Fraga   
Keep This Bag Away From Children, August 2012
45 pages / $5  Buy from publisher

 

 

 

 

If you accidentally drop Sophia Le Fraga’s I DON’T WANT ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE INTERNET, the book is fucked. This text is unbound, typewritten, looseleaf and there are no page numbers, so one misshap and the whole thing is irrevocably scrambled.

Or maybe it is not fucked. The sequencing of these poems is malleable and they do not have to be read chronologically. This “randomness” lends itself to all kinds of questions about the way that we perceive the order of a book of poems. Bound books appear official, permanent, as though there is an art god or a poetry god who said “do it like this” and it was so, and it is so forever. But sequencing is really subjective. If given the chance to rip out the binding and re-shuffle, many poets would likely re-sequence their books shortly after publication.

And what about the god of the internet, the @Lord? Is there one? “do me a favor, / professional / consoler: / get outta my sky. / save yourself on a computer / and zoom in on a stranger,” writes Le Fraga. This text is tense, at once resisting and embracing the fleetingness of pop culture and the meme. The speaker is “sick with / sincerity” yet “mass texts” are rendered “a / worse feeling / than hearing / about suicide.” Likewise, “time is a waste of #Poetry” but “RunningOutOfXanax” and “#y’all” and “#Instagram” are immortalized on the printed page. If an electronic god exists, it exists everywhere—irl too. Any attempts to separate the lexicon of the internet from poetry, are futile. The internet is omniscient, a time traveler and in you.

 

Writes Le Fraga:

in the anecdotes
and parables

composed
of former futures

I found a piece
that made me
largely Rethink the
garden

as a screensaver
DEEPLY structured
to alienate

the world.

Here, Le Fraga employs a transcendental, and mildly paranoic tone, wherein religious ideals are the original screensaver. With skillful linebreaks, she creates a parallel between the computer and the image of eden. Both are hypnotic and can provoke within humans feelings of separation and isolation. Eden creates false distinctions between humans with its inherent notions of original sin and conversion-necessity. The computer, while connecting us quickly and across geography, possesses its own addictive quality and raises the question of just how deep our internet relationships really are.

Yet there is also a pervading romanticism in this book—both thematically and structurally. Direct assonance and abba rhyme schemes emerge in various poems, embedded with hashtags, @’s and FourSquare. Le Fraga has a wide command of various forms, but R. Kelly and Facebook often meet structured couplets and tercets. There are yellow #dreamz, the super moon and the loneliness of an unread blog. “at the end of the SNOW / there’s a HOLOGRAM CHAMBER // please / Kickstart / someone // you / love,” she writes. This language is alive and breathing, even when it claws at feelings of boredom and ennui.

While an abundance of lol poetry and emoticon poetry existed prior to this book, and is sure to follow, I’ve rarely seen omg culture juxtaposed so seamlessly with a 19th century European romantic sensibility. As William Wordsworth said, poetry should be the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” As Rick Ross says, “May your love come down so my mind might have you.”

#neoneoneoromanticism