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Kluge: A Meditation, and other works
Brian Kim Stefans
Roof Books, $13.95 (paper)
With an erudite wit, a swerving, campy, sonic thickness, and an adherence to recombinatory exercises in the subversion of style, Kluge, a companion piece to What Is Said to the Poet Concerning Flowers (2006), reads like a handbook for the future avant-garde. The book merges the erstwhile artistic breakthroughs of the Black Mountain School and Oulipo-inspired procedural methods with a forward-looking faith in digital aesthetics to concoct a poetry as flat-out funny as it is furiously intelligent. The impressive range of this collection is sure to engender excitement as it cracks open received ideas of structure and form. Stefans works within the serial mode in both prose and verse, tackles the long poem through a decimation of individual words (“�Ķh / is awa / reness // of re / ality / as und / erstoo / d by o / the rs”), takes the verse play to hilarious poignancy, and schools Chomsky on the finer points of poetic meaning and logic. He creates a post-language poetry honoring pre-linguist utterance by giving import to the verbal hiccups that allow one time to gather and articulate a thought and explicates its techniques with short but useful essays. “Old songs are idle echoes,” Stefans writes in the book’s brilliant title piece, “like anthems penned on a desert isle.” He is himself a tireless critic, and one entirely deserving of the same recognition and intellectual rigor he’s brought to bear on the work of numerous other writers, a decade’s worth of which appears in his recent Before Starting Over. The scope of his cultural references and the lightning speed with which they shift, dancing between seemingly incommensurate lexicons, evinces a media-heavy, in media res “Ballet carnival,” where the dialectic between high and low art is not only proved irrelevant, but antiquated. Whatever future term comes to stand in for that which follows postmodernism, one can rest assured that this particular poet will be a prime example of its practitioners, as Stefans tell us: “Postmodernism’s dead. Let’s collect its guppies.”
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