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“Black declares, in an almost off-handed way, that poetry can’t do anything important”: A Review of Noel Black’s Uselysses
In poem after poem, in the first three books of Uselysses, Black declares, in an almost off-handed way, that poetry can’t do anything important. He is demonstrating self-conscious awareness of the limitations of the written word, or catering to some requirement for realism, or accepting the freedom of effort without responsibility. Though it’s probably true, “poems can’t/ make people stop being assholes, or end greed and suffering,” (p20) shouldn’t poets be writing to change that. Furthermore, shouldn’t the reader decide what the poem does or does not accomplish. This is not to say that every poet should try to save the world with every poem, or that there is no beauty in the pointless, or that the poetic voice should be messianic, monumental and monotone, but Black’s mitigating interjections disrupt whatever the poem is accomplishing, by breaking the reader out of whatever images and ideas the poem had been conveying.
The book changes course in Moby K. Dick. The inherent playfulness of the collisions seemed to free Black from the pressure to be self-conscious. The images are allowed to fend for themselves in the reader’s mind, and, as a result, are much stronger and more interesting than those written in doubt of their strength and interest. “I tell you: The truth involves innumerable shakes of obscure cheroot bullied into phantoms of the inconceivable–/ supersonic, jet-propelled, propeeler-driven dicks of truth trepanning the subconscious,” from “Lord Jim Thompson.” (p80) In “Huckleberry Finnegans Wake,” Black writes, “I’ve got only one memory: Hamlet’s yawn–/ a song to be cutting up with a pair of sissors, “ and “Male & female we unmask the ghoon to an inch of his core/ & I warn’t myself as I opened the door.” In “Farenheit 49,” we get “They stood by the luminous dial of his watch with verse in their heads/ at the end of the Holy Roman Empire amid the splendid delusions of paranoia.”
Witty, diverse, inventive; the success of these poems suggests that, regardless of the artistic inspiration drawn from Hopkins and Whitman, Black might have been more successful orienting his work towards X. J. Kennedy and recent semi-surrealist James Tate.
Full review here.