Monday, September 7, 2009
The art of the cracking yourself up
Cody Walker is a joker, it seems, given to giggles, giddiness and guffaws in the pursuit of cracking himself up on jokes perhaps only he and select coterie of friends and fellow travelers would get. His poem "Update",is an exercise in a man chortling loudly in the back row.And even if a reader was fortunate to "get" Walker's interior monologue of skipping rhymes and cross-referenced literary forms, it's my modest guess the number finding this bit humorous would be lesser still. No matter, since I am as well in the habit of cracking myself up, imagining lines of dialogue among unlikely characters and personalities in improbable circumstance, chewing the fat on absurd and discreetly vulgar subjects.
It would be something like a three year old playing with his toy cars, conjuring one automotive disaster after another on a strip of wood paneled floor quickly imagined to be a ten lane interstate, or a six year old, when the young mind grows out the crashing spectacle of accidents and now imagines characters, recognizably humanoid, with distinct personalities, representing abstract, if two dimensional virtues, with attending voices. All this fills a mind with busy talk and scenarios, in the casual preparation for engaging the real life imagination will help them , with prayers, survive and thrive in.
Later still, in the far throws of adulthood, there come the private totems, the hallowed reference points, the memorized conventions of morning cartoons, biographies of great poets and advertising jingles, conflated to essential absurdities one tears down and reconstructs and tears down again as the surging mood to distance oneself from the drudgery of work and obligations; one takes flight, throws water balloons at the canon, paints the icons in garish colors, makes unlikely partners of dissimilar virtues in order to reveal some space in one's consciousness where logic and hard rationale haven't invaded and tamed. Then comes the "eureka" laugh, that fast, hard snort of being elevated above the physical place where you stand, momentarily transcendent, untouchable. I do this often enough alone, at home, whether writing or reading a book, and too often, perhaps, at work, where such outbursts are evidence of a mind being on other things other than the bottom line, and it is for those seconds when all things are reduced in stature, made equal in size. It doesn't last, of course, and soon enough the euphoria evaporates into the hard facts in front of you. But it is nice when it happens.
I should also make it a point to relate that I just about never try to relate what it was I found so funny to anyone I'm around; the description defy anecdotal reiteration, most times seeming sketchy and bizarre when I do try. The punch lines are too private, the references mired in that roiling swamp of a consciousness that cannot be brought to public view without the mediation of
thoughtful consideration and editing. And even then it would be dubious whether an audience would find the reason for my fleeting giggle worth the effort to listen to me bray on.
Cody Walker has decided to bray on.Walker's poem isn't a great one by any means, and is such that you wonder once again what Pinsky's attraction to it was. The rhymes are trite, the subject attempting to lane change across style barriers with the worst kind of ham-handed self-referential readily found in the most grating post-modern poetry, and there is what can be a smug -knowingness that saturates this brief operation. We have a scenario where a bright boy , trying to regain his equilibrium after the departure of his girlfriend/wife/significant other, invests himself with the powers and abilities of his great heroes from comic books and the scant readings of top shelf authors. He becomes Star Trek:The Next Generation's Data
("I've also rerouted... my neural pathways..." and Superman , with a mention that he has also re-routed "fjords", an oblique reference to the opening of the fifties TV program where the Man of Steel is said to be able to "...change the course of mighty rivers..."
And so it goes through this short poem, a desperate playfulness abounds, a growing hysteria mounts, a breakdown threatens, all this stewing while the narrator seeks the blessing of the over-cited Nietzsche guarantee , to paraphrase a paraphrase, that what what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. What Walker intends is unclear--that the social constructions that result from our innate need to have life have purpose and meaning are finally inadequate? That mistaking experience as merely the means with which we test the veracity of our philosophical models is to lose sight of actual value?-- but what there is here is minor, indeed, worth a laugh, perhaps, but worth a laugh in the sense that what's funny is a reader's belief this
tightly packed box of a poem merits a close textual reading.
Walker wrote this as a knock off, I suspect, something to be put deep inside a collection as an off key note, a character-giving bit of dissonance.
The insanity it suggests is disturbing, and it makes my case that mental anguish does not necessarily result in good poetry.