Thursday, October 18, 2012

What I'm Reading: Two Chapbooks by Terry Wright

58ยบ ~ wind advisory in place for most of the region today but calm for now, storms passed through overnight


I've probably mentioned Terry Wright here before.  He's the Grand Poobah of Poetry over at the University of Central Arkansas, having built the foundation over several decades for what is now the newly launched MFA program there.  After I read at the reception for the program, Terry sent me his two latest chapbooks:  Fractal Cut-Ups (Kattywompus Press, 2012) and Graphs (Kairos Editions, 2011).

In Fractal Cut-Ups Terry creates mash-ups to create a series of prose poems.  In each poem, two texts are fed through a virtual cut-up machine and mashed together multiple times.  The result according to Terry in the Notes section are poems that "are semi-found but consciously collaged."  The book contains 22 poems, followed by an extensive Notes section that first lists the two texts used to produce each poem and then "provide[s] mish-mash annotation: part aboveboard end note academic documentation, part gossip and paranoia and truthiness culled from the Web, part avowedly confessional secrets and sound bites from the author."  Each poem, then, lives again in a new way.

Throughout, the idea of fractal properties (self-similarity, theoretical infinity, and chaos theory) provide the underpinning for the book.

Here's an example from the start of "Invasion of the Action Painters."

Letting the world canvas dry to a Just War results in objectness.  The weapon of de Kooning was martyrdom.  The painter, a perceived threat, necessitates subconscious military action.  Only the artist, a sole superpower, envisages proactivity using tangible manifestations.  Attack creations are soon outspoken in every region, and dialogues with adversaries drip on statelessness horizons.

The Notes tell us that the two texts are a "Wikipedia entry on 'action painting'" and a "Wikipedia entry on 'the Bush Doctrine.'"  Did I mention that Terry is decidedly political in his work as well?  

In Graphs Terry works with another mathematical principle, the use of graphs to "abstractly represent a set of objects," according to the Notes section of this chapbook.  Instead of a mathematical, numerical grid, Terry provides "prose diagrams."  There are eight poems here and the same hefty Notes section as the previous book, this time where Terry lets us in on his thinking behind certain phrases in each poem.

Here's an example from the start of "Garbage Graph."

How apropos.  The chorus returns like another holiday.  The family's coming for festival. They're bringing Dionysus, god of wine -- and theater.  There's a cop out in the wings.  The bell rings announcing locker searches.

The Notes tell us that the "chorus" refers to "the bird girls in the musical Seussical -- if the show had been staged on a landfill" and "festival" is "[m]ore like Landru's fete from Star Trek's 'The Return of the Archons' than like Burning Man."  The note for this poem is easily twice the length of the poem itself and rather than over-explaining the poem, it morphs into something different altogether.

Terry's poems in these two collections eschew the traditional ideas of poetry and take us in a new direction of pop culture and political stances.  They contain the best of both comedy and tragedy, and they never take themselves too seriously.  Every time I read something of Terry's I remember that it's a big ol' poetry world and there is room for all the varied voices.

**If you are interested in the idea of a word mash-up, just Google "virtual cut-up machine" and numerous links will pop up.

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