writing this review here is a good chance for me to write a review on what I'm already thinking about -- just wait until I read the "Godwar" section
American Godwar Complex
Draft of comments on section 1, “American”
One of Bernadette Mayer’s exercises, the results of which Lee Ann Brown included in her first book, POLYVERSE, is a rewrite of the Pledge of Allegiance. Patrick Herron begins his new book with a version of the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner, the United States’ national anthem, widely regarded as one of the least tuneful anthems.
Lee Ann Brown’s PLEDGE sounds a little reminiscent of the way a pledge might sound to someone standing outside of a classroom forced to recite it, perhaps on a sunny lawn, someone who has no idea what the words to the pledge are and thus hears the entire thing as a mondegreen.
Aside on the Pledge:
The purpose of the pledge in general was first a socialist ploy, then the victim of some K of C (Knights of Columbus – see my annoyance at shared cubicle wall with a fourth degree knight elsewhere on this blog – if I hear one more time him talking over the phone about his pride at leading men… eh, he got laid off when GE took over. Mainframe sucker) bid for public prayer (the insertion of “under God” during the McCarthy period). It is pretty interesting now, no? Now that the K of C and other anti-choice misogynist Catholic men voted single issue for Bush and Senate Republicans? [I heard that call campaign.]
here’s a link: http://history.vineyard.net/pledge.htm see, EQUALITY was taken out. What is the Knights of Columbus? The Catholic fraternal organization (Catholics are generally excluded from the Masons).
Now back to the peculiar nature of the pledge and the exercise. What is a pledge? A pledge to a symbol? and here is a piece of writing, memorized, repeated by schoolchildren, those brilliant rewriters (‘tis the season for Randolph the Red-Gunned Cowboy!), which some would make a prayer. Mayer is saying, consider rewriting it lyrically, as a poem-pledge, away from the symbol.
Herron is doing something else. Interestingly, to another poem-song about the flag. The poem, “The Blood-Spatter’d Banner,” is the first poem in the book, the first poem in the “American” section of AMERICAN GODWAR COMPLEX. Herron uses the flag as a flag, a symbolic item. He is rewriting the national anthem to show that while the anthem was about being attacked (War of 1812) on our own territory (the flag over the fort surviving a night time battle), the flag is now planted on foreign territory and then defended “there.”
The tone of the poems in this first section is a little loopy, in a way I was initially unsure of (eep, I’m not supposed to end with prepositions), but which I have become converted to, because I see Herron’s reasoning. For example, in “Narcoleptic Bicyclists” (what a grand phrase), which is dedicated to our current president and to former president Ronald Reagan, he has the narcoleptics on the bicycle, but then describes, in line three, “his chain slung around a crankcase nation…” This is the type of locution I would generally find clunky, that addition of “nation.” I know that the nearly perfect-pitch Rachel Loden manages her neo-objectivism without this flagging. But that thought leads me to the loopiness of what’s actually going on in this section: words are being substituted in to poems and songs, “Hail to the Chief,” “Happy Birthday,” etc., big words, important words, words like “nation,” to make a point, but rather than an OuLiPian effect, these substitutions have a more direct effect on meaning. They mean what they mean.
Now, some of the poems in this section are built for me to respond to, in my opinion. For example, in “I Believe In What I Know Is Not True Because I Am God And I Know Me,” some great, long, ridiculous quotes are gathered from all over and then there is a short-lined, very simply worded poem following. Now, my focus has been, in the case of the minnemystics, if god is love and love is belief (etymologically), then belief in god is god, and belief is belief in god. I like this poem in particular because I’m doing an Inanna poem called “Anne” (my middle name) and this poem is about (identity as per usual, or, I suppose one could say equality), the unitary nature of the individual, the opposite of a series, for a book in the CONFITEOR series I finally titled Dea (no, not DEA, although I suppose that’ll make its way in somewhere). Herron’s poem is essentially against the idea of a Just War. Now, each religion has its definition of a Just war, but since this is essentially an idea in ethics (an idea whose time has passed), there are secular ideas of Just War as well. You may remember the Geneva Convention (I remember it from too many episodes of HOGAN’S HEROES).
I have been thinking of Schultz on Hogan’s Heroes a lot because the seller of the house we are buying seems to be German, and a continual echo in the negotiations for repairs is “I know nothing” (about the problems with the house). Now, if I had some childhood experience with the KNOW NOTHINGS except for a childhood obsession with Carl Sandburg’s LINCOLN, I would doubtless be thinking of the KKK just as often. The Katholic K. See K of C above. Mater Dei. Part of the reason I love poetry is this tight web of reference and association. The KNOW NOTHINGS were nativist Americans who wanted to keep everyone out of the Anglo Saxon dreamland they called America.
In “The White Man’s got a God Complex,” the binary numbering of the lines breaks – in a pleasant way – the changes that Herron rings on the “western koan,” “if a tree falls in the forest….” This reminds me…
OK, even I’m getting tired of this tactic in this review. But, lets face it, I read “Rwanda” in the poem, and we’ve got some binary from the inFORMation age, used formally in a poem, and I’m reminded of one of the students who was at Columbia when I was,
We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwandaby Philip Gourevitch
Yes, Paul Elie generously gave me a review copy when I was trying to get into reviewing, and I didn’t review it. I did start reviewing, though. Ron did not like the book; he felt is had a too “New Yorker” feel. He liked Peter whats-his-face’s book about Bosnia which I thought was pretty minor. Anyway, as you know, a fax machine figures prominently in that book. Fax is pre-digital technology, and did you know that we could have had faxes in the late 1800’s if someone had got on the stick? [I think is was more people’s resistance to technology.] It is easier, technically, to transmit faxes than to copy or to transmit sound. I dimly remember reading somewhere.
But this does relate to the poem, because the truth of the matter is that right about now, some interesting things about the information age are surfacing. One is that it is not really the ability to analyze that is important right now, in the midst of information / advertising overload, so much as the ability to winnow very quickly and the ability to prioritize ethically. How many of the purportedly from Africa spams have you received? No, this is about more than that: messages are quite easy to miss for the population which is not used to receiving and interpreting information. The thinnest of smokescreens, the most minor delay in delaying tactics can move issues and situations and topics and emergencies off the “radar” – off the “hit list” – away from the attention of one and all. And that is the mystery of the scandals – worldwide political and religious scandals – that are going to affect everything for the next fifteen years – the next generation – is that they are in PLAIN VIEW. But people who are not accustomed to constant selection are deluged, shut themselves off from the world in ways they select, and so are then not effected by the ramifications of decisions they’ve made, beliefs they have, and the like. Or if they are, they don’t recognize this until it is too late.