Poetry News

Seth Abramson Reviews Mathew Timmons

By Harriet Staff


Seth Abramson's February poetry reviews are up at Huffington Post Books, and we're interested in the range and diversity of books he highlights. Happily, he includes an astute review of The New Poetics (Les Figues Press, 2010), by Mathew Timmons:

Divided into more than 300 alphabetically-arranged chapters--some of which are blank but for their title, all of whom are titled using some variation of the construction "The New _______"--Timmons' 2010 collection exposes just how tiresome and sad most forms of novelty are. That so many of the chapters in The New Poetics are empty (including some, such as The New Criticism and The New Deal, we might expect to be not just present but loquaciously so) reveal that allegedly novel thinking is often little more than an agenda-driven slogan waiting on its substance, or worse--as with The New Criticism and The New Deal--an old promise still waiting to be properly delivered upon. What chapters are present here are alternately hilarious (see The New Kitten, The New Love, and The New Night) and impenetrable (The New Acrostic, The New Alexandrine, and a number of others). Throughout, one suspects that (at best) chance operations or (at worst) The Google-sculpting of flarf is afoot: These prose poems often read as search-engine mash-ups, though unlike much flarf there's more than enough cream beneath the steam to warrant a deep sip of what Timmons has brewed. The poet's poems jaunt off on so many wild and entirely unforeseeable diversions that the total effect is one of biting social critique. Words escape us, Timmons implies; they signify flirtatiously, eschewing fidelity on instinct the way false loves often do. Ideas, in this view, are all in their use, and what we make of them is, ultimately, all they are. (We may say the same of love, of course, both the New and Old varieties.)

This reviewer found The New Poetics not only invigorating but endlessly entertaining. Timmons has a gift for pacing that's worthy of abiding admiration, and his book lays down enough red thread to make any labyrinth-breaker proud. In the same way Mark Danielewski's House of Leavesexposed the vanity of inquiry and the circularity of all citation by flooding an ostensible horror novel with spurious footnotes, Timmons reveals knowledge production mechanisms as necessarily degenerative and even, often enough, cannibalistic. (There may be no entry for "The New Deal" inThe New Poetics, but "The New New Deal" gets one, and it's a dystopic vision par excellence.) And cultural transactions in which empty forms of capital are accrued and transferred come in for similar (equally-deserved) treatment.

You'll also find reviews of Kathleen Fraser's movable TYYPE, Lisa Olstein's Little Stranger, Monika Rinck's to refrain from embracing [tr. Nicholas Grindell], and Elizabeth Robinson's Counterpart.

Originally Published: March 1st, 2013