Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The General's Fiction: A Military Internment of Literature — No. 2

Note: Today, we, the good people of Et tu, Mr. Destructo? turn for insight to General Rehavam "Gandhi" Ze'evi, former Israeli Minister of Tourism. Having faked his assassination in the Mt. Scopus Hyatt Hotel, the General has been in deep cover, in Judea and Samaria. He last joined us to explain how Christopher Hitchens should burn in hell, how we can help Andrew Breitbart get there and how killing Bin Laden was the last spasm in the American fever dream.

Pavane For A Dead Country: Mark Brendle's Radio Fragments

You probably know the holiday blues, if not personally, then at least by reputation. And you probably know them more acutely when the celebrations end, when there's no one left to lie to—winter without the trappings. Wallace Stevens wrote, "The world about us would be desolate except for the world within us," and in the twilight of an economically corroded and spiritually bereft America, it is more vital than ever that artists shine a light. Mark Brendle, an Oregon-based writer and colleague here at Et Tu, Mr. Destructo, has published a new book of poetry, Radio Fragments.

Radio Fragments consists of a few dozen prose poems beneath a lovely illustrated cover, depicting a cordon of riot cops forming a human abatis, as a ribbon of radio waves bends and curls between them. How is Radio Fragments? It is superb, because as an author, Brendle gets the stakes. This poetry is neither for the aloof liberal who sets great store in a few clean tweaks, nor the reactionary clinging to his long-dead liturgy. Radio Fragments is sad, strong, crystalline, beautiful, like the thick ice atop a dark lake. This is poetry for people who, in Andrea Dworkin's words, "Don't find compromise unacceptable—[they] find it incomprehensible."

The book's strength comes from its unity of vision—a dire one. In one of the book's final poems, "An Elegy For Cinna The Poet," the speaker plainly doubts the ability of any creative work to puncture the violence and anomie that has come to dominate our lives: "What are words to the angry mob, or anyone else for that matter? The patricians have been fighting with each other over their toys again." The poet is ignored, Caesar gets whacked by his equally loathsome usurpers, and "atomized, dissonant voices howl in the marketplace." As Brendle writes in another poem, "The equivalence of words brands us with proper nouns like Charlemagne, Babylon, Gilgamesh, Constantinople, Prospero." Let any dissidents bay; they've always been ignored in time for the next collapse. What change could a poet possibly effect?