Poetry News

Joyelle McSweeney Reviews Lonely Christopher's Newest Collection, Death and Disaster Series

By Harriet Staff

Lonely Christopher

At Fanzine, Joyelle McSweeney reviews Lonely Christopher's new book of poems, Death & Disaster Series (Monk Books, 2014) (is it a possible partner to Kenny Goldsmith's newest, we wonder...but nay, more that all give due to Warhol). In fact, what interests McSweeney "is not just the appropriation of Warhol’s title but what is conjured by this allusion, the occult current that runs between Christopher and Warhol, this Death and Disaster Series and its forbear." On the complexity of Warhol, first:

...Warhol himself has been subjected to every kind of moral imputation imaginable—he looks very hard at race riots, but somehow not hard enough. He himself was a victim of violence and homophobia, yet he is somehow a victimizer, a criminal mastermind. He was affected by mass cultural events but not appropriately engaged by them; a painfully shy gay son of immigrants who hated his face and who didn’t produce the right emotional performances; a devotee of fame who invented a paradoxically public unavailability. To his critics, Warhol did not perform a correct citizenship, a moral ‘self’. His withdrawal doesn’t resemble a Garbo-like via negativa but self-absorption, the narcissism gay men can, according to our heterosexist culture, be relied upon to display. He may like Coke like the rest of us, but he’s not, you know, really like the rest of us.

McSweeney also gives the poems themselves a close read:

I’ve thought before that the motif in any series of poems is a kind of money, being spent but never exhausted, being spent and piling up. If the motif ‘uses’ the speaker to get said, then the speaker also uses this motif to build up (and hollow out) his own status as a poet. In ‘The Orgone Accumulator,”

Let me, the poet, say
this: this started
as a conduit for my love
and rage. [ . . . ]
bring me to Babylon
make a purity of these
misapprehensions that sold.

I adore and am infected by the Mayakovskian reach and collapse of this, as well as by the Warholian money-logic of this entire sequence: something is repeated and repeated but not diminished; something else is unfairly, irrevocably zero’d out; grief is turned into a kind of money, that is, into voice; an alternate economy is set up on fatal principles; a June that stays and is cruel; Poetry; money of the dead.

7. The poems in the second two sequences are more various in their content but still as tonally intense and even more linguistically audacious and adorned, including a stretch of near-sonnets which really attracted me, such as “No”:

What crushes me, like the weight of God, dinosauring
blank space into my throat, what cannot be unless
I believe in it, is one of the only things I care
to think about. Hammer
without a name, clavicle of my resorts, be a matter
and a bill, withstand the damages of a graphic aria
with no form but an insatiable form, no justice
but an intelligence, no grade.

In this Donne-like space, God and Poetry have the same shape—insatiable form—but it is also a ‘no form’, a ‘no justice’; this poet commits himself to live impossibly at, in, and as this membrane, this diaphragm, this limit. Like Mayakovsky but with a comparable set of loves, Lonely Christopher’s poems are swaggering and besotted, each boast also a plea.

Read the full review at Fanzine. Watch the book trailer below. Image at top: Lonely Christopher reading at Making Friends, July 11, 2012, Josée Bienvenu Gallery, New York.

Death & Disaster Series by Lonely Christopher from Aaron Mirkin on Vimeo.