As Reviewed By:
Pen Chants or 12 Spirit-like Impermanences by Lissa Wolsak. New York: Roof Books, 2000. $9.95 (paperback), 74 pp.
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New from Roof Books (the New
York house that brought us L+A+N+G+U+A+G+E
magazine, and books by its prominent practitioners including Charles
Bernstein, Ray DiPalma, Hank Lazer, Jackson MacLow and Ron Silliman),
Lissa Wolsak's Pen Chants feels
like it's ushering in a new day of sorts for the Language school. Long
(and undeservedly) derided as being unreadable, inconsequential or
nonsensical, Language had austere beginnings--challenging the politicized
and standardized "meanings" of words--but perhaps did
slip into the wrong hands somewhere along the way. Enter
"experimental" poetry, a consistently mediocre style written not
by, or in the spirit of, the old Language guard of radical thinkers, but
by grad students and bored homebodies who seem to have figured if
Bernstein can string six, two-word sentences together and call it a
"poem," why can't I? Maybe
this is a harsh generalization; but how else to explain the explosion,
particularly online, of this kind of writing--obtuse, personal moments
that do not translate at all into public experience, fueled by nothing but
the writer's love of razzle-dazzle?
am I to....
am I to....
...........will bear these back
to the comprising of krill
the crafting of testicles
my percurrent beast or
that there alone, incults
my quietist camel-father
during his samadhis
girdled by listless hills,
epi, turps, sud.
Within parting... kiss us.
Pen Chants is
splendid departures strung together with the best narrative thread of all--music.
Music of the searcher, one whose soul is restless, a "rose [in the]
unlisted meanings of space." Wolsak defines for us the space she sees
with the language she sees fit, whether it fits with convention or not.
Thus in Pen Chants the
experimental spirit is re-invigorated, no longer victim of the lapidary or
mandarin lapses seen in some of that mode's recent work. Wolsak gestures
for us, wants us, to follow her, in order that we may "conquer the