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A Look at Ben Fama’s Mall Witch
At HTMLGiant, Ben Tripp reviews the Wonder project Mall Witch, a book of poems attributed to Ben Fama but authored by Paul Legault and Andrew Durbin. However, writes Tripp: “For fans of Legault’s homespun ventriloquisms of John Ashbery and Emily Dickinson (some from Fence Books, or his latest from McSweeney’s) or Durbin’s precocious Frank O’Hara-style cosmopolitan lyric (Durbin is younger and a late-comer to this coterie, his poems have just begun to appear online and in some print journals) there is none of that here. It makes this reviewer truly wonder who or what actually did write Mall Witch, or what the point of any such alternative methods for the book or ‘buzz’ really is, if all that comes out on the page in the end is the same anyway.” More:
Like O’Hara, Fama writes about the gay experience and feelings of overstimulation and distraction in short, terse poems heavily laden with pop cultural references ranging from Kenneth Anger to Mary J. Blige to Tumblr and back again: “What I really want to do is direct / Surrounded by gothy youthful-looking somethings / Set a google alert and notify me in the future.” Irony in these poems is a moot point. In theory, they mean to disrupt the boundaries between the worlds of fashion, art, poetry and performance, and engage new media. However, the poems themselves continuously fall short before your eyes, one line at a time, dismissive like the parting gesture of a host who stands at the door to inform you the party’s just over. Some would say this has been standard operating procedure for every successive generation of the so-called New York School of poetry for about a million years. Fama’s only innovation rests with his poems’ identifying the pretense of popular 21st Century quandaries (alienation, lack of personal identity/freedom in the Digital Age, etcetera) which are usually a lot more articulately expressed in the media elsewhere, a.k.a everywhere, any time of day and for free, online.
Some of the artwork inside is unexpected and interesting. For the poem “Pastel,” a high-res image of a yellow-camouflaged Four Loko can nicely balances the spread to the one side of a single-stanza poem, the entire page rendered in a pale pink overcast. A lot of the pages look like what happens when Adobe InDesign falls into the hands of a seven-year-old girl, but this is probably deliberate.