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On Julian Brolaski’s Advice for Lovers

By Harriet Staff

Over at The Volta, last Friday’s Feature was a review of Julian Brolaski’s recent Advice for Lovers, which is the latest book to come out of Garrett Caples’s rather marvelous City Lights Spotlight series. Patrick James Dunagan was at the reading at City Lights Bookstore celebrating the publication, and noted that Brolaksi at first hesitated to read “the naughty ones”:

Immediately, without intending to interrupt or otherwise disturb, but admittedly not giving it any thought, I piped up from the stairs, “Oh, but you should. Those ones are really wonderful and good!” Truly, these poems—all those in the book—are great, the naughtiest ones just happen to also rank among the most superbly supple display of an embrace of lyric language to be found in the work of any contemporary younger poet. Brolaski’s gifted play of alliteration and syllabic deft shines with this collection. The power is immediate and raw. Without any time wasted, the territories and range of poetry covered and referenced by this collection are clearly staked out. Here are a few lines from the book’s second poem:

Call me cunt, I am my own big brother,
Like Hesiod, had he had his druthers

[. . .]

That rhyming hazard that you thot you writ
That fucks folks harder than a free verse can

Amidst such lines, brazenly tossing out the unabashed gauntlet, Brolaski questions “Why be chaste upon the ponderous page?”

Dunagan also points to the interview conducted here at Harriet with Caples about City Lights Spotlight, in which Caples explained that, “Julian’s a third-gender poet who’s coined a set of pronouns and possessives for third-gender reference: ‘xe’ [zi] for subject; ‘xem’ for object; ‘xir/xirs’ for possessives; and ‘xemself for reflectives.’” “Brolaski self-identifies by way of a denial of traditional gender descriptors, utilizing a new set of terms with which to identify the sexualized other,” writes Dunagan, who looks at these descriptors alongside Brolaksi’s other poetic accoutrements: the garter, “macho, lusty Bravado,” similes reminiscent of Bob Dylan lyrics, and the invocation of Jack Spicer:

Here, Brolaski asks the now uselessly yet nonetheless lovingly concerned question of the dead poet: “Jack, can’t you see how sad songs / help when you’re sad?” Clearly, Spicer, who from all accounts died of alcoholism at forty feeling unloved, did not get much help from any “sad songs.” While Spicer could tell his imaginary Billy the Kid-figure that “There’s honey in the groin, Billy,” his love poetry was always destined to be lament and never joyous. In too many ways, Spicer’s poetry is a record of his living self-burial within language itself. Spicer quite literally died due to his vocabulary, as Robin Blaser’s now infamous relating of his last words vividly claims. Brolaski is not having any of such nonsense.

Dunagan also places Brolaski’s poetry and erotics in both recent and literary-historical context:

With both an MFA from Mills College in Oakland and a nearly finished PhD from Berkeley, Brolaski has the academic chops to pull off a resolutely joyous turn to scanned, rhythmic verse while embracing a colloquialism of “the streets” that deploys slang as deftly as it invents it.

Doing dark country till the trough fairly shimmers
Gold teeth with lilac crush—crunk apparent.
Once gabardine now frill, knows no crunky
Cryptozoology, but rather tweets
And thrills, loose-lineated bacchardi,
Hennessey’ll man my heartthrob on the streets—

O slide your mic beneath my bonny mantle
And hyphe me harder, angel, than I can handle.

Many young poets demonstrate a blind spot when it comes to embracing the past; often anything beyond the English Romantics (let alone the 20th century or the last couple decades) remains as if in a locked box to which they have no key. In contrast, Brolaski engages everything from the Latin poets of antiquity, to 16th and 17th century versifiers, treating such poetry not as historical artifact but as an utterly contemporary competitor for the affection of lovers.

Read the full review here.

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Posted in Poetry News on Tuesday, May 15th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.