Last night I started reading Kary Wayson's American Husband. Last night I made plans to go to the movies this afternoon. Last night I had a dream about going to the movies with Kary Wayson. I'm not going with her. This book, however, is fantastic.
Though I read and love reading a lot of poetry, a lot of contemporary poetry, I get the sense that much of it is well-worn territory, that most of it I don't "need" to read (like I need to read Roberto Bolano, to use a recent obsession).
Yesterday I had a headache and all I did was read Nicholson Baker's new book The Anthologist, in it the narrator talks about John Ashbery, how cool it is that missing r, and says, "I'd never really cottoned to Ashbery's Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror, the book that won three awards and made him known throughout the free-verse universe. I'd tried to read it a few times and failed. It's arbitrary. It reads as if it's written by a cleverly programmed random-phrase generator. It doesn't sing" (233).
I enjoy reading a lot of poetry, but I don't often get those moments where I feel like something has shifted in me that needs to be shifted. Kind of like a chiropractor working on alignment. A bad analogy because I think most chiropractors are crooks or madmen (there is history here). Some molecule or muscle has been moved back into place, or into a new place that makes the body work better. Now I have a word for that, singing. So many contemporary poets seem to work in the cleverly programmed random-phrase generator style. Sometimes it works well, I can't tell why, but perhaps it's that singing that has little to do with sense, and more to do with the primal force of naked language. That said, I myself won't try random-phrasing. I have little confidence that I could make a page sing without saying something.
Anyway, Kary Wayson's work sings. And makes sense. There's none of the in-vogue randomness. Her words mean something. The play is Dr. Seussian at times, the word play is so convoluted it becomes sharpened knifelike, or better wound nooselike, if we're not mixing metaphors, but one never loses what she's saying. It's astonishing to say the least. And I've been waiting a long time, since 2004's chapbook Dog and Me came out with LitRag Press, to read more of her.
O, Empty-of-Hours, the doctor’s a clock. His hand
is a serrated knife. Heavy his books, his
his pharmacological eyes.
Father Infallible, Doctor Indelible, Goat
you’ve got, my goad–You, and your mal-
practice suits, your wingtips and tuxedoes.
Doctor Parenthesis, Father
for emphasis, Stepmothers Must
and Because: Doctor dismiss
my dire diagnosis—my god’s
a blot—of implausible pause.
Dear Doctor, Dear Proctor, ad-
Minister my test (your office assigns
your affections.) Dear Doctor, Dear
Forceps, my Father, forget this—
I’ll ration your attention.
and I’ll wait. I’ll compile
and I’ll plate
an unending compendium of
American make me, American take me
with you when you go. You do not do, you do not do—
Faster, Bastard! American
Fetch! you do not do—you don’t.
American Father, my General Boss
I am your lather—and you
are my loss. Professor my lecture, mother
my tongue—I live
with a desk where nothing gets done.
Inhibit my habits and dress me in gauze—my god’s
a clot. Of unsolvable cause.
American Husband, American Head, nobody
stopped me, nobody said Surgeons
must be very careful/ When they take the knife!
It's not my favorite poem in the collection. But it's a great place to start. And you should.