Thursday, October 12, 2006


Gary Sullivan's introduction to Shanna Compton

Your mother put a
fan in the oven,
he said, to cool
it down. That’s right
the door is open
and on it sits
a little fan, blowing.
I am a little
fan, she says, an
ardent fan, a big
fan of yours. Whew.

That poem, Shanna Compton’s “Post-Texas Expressive Heat,” is quickly becoming one of the most often-quoted poems of her generation. It’s short, it’s funny, and like William Carlos Williams’ plum-eating confession it’s memorable. It’s also a great example of how a poem can keep resonating in myriad ways, up to and including a meta-reading of it that focuses on how the poem, as though it were the blades in a fan, turns right in the middle to upend or 180 our expectations & get our thoughts spinning. Whew.

The poem, the playful messing with expectations, is par for Shanna’s course. But to the extent that poetry is golfing: An exceedingly dull competitive sport wherein the world’s blandest, fashion conscious-less human beings follow each for endless hours over astonishingly unremarkable landscape trying to “score less” than each other, Shanna Compton is mini golf all the way, and “Post-Texas Expressive Heat” is the windmill on the 7th hole. Like a mini golf course she is various, ironic, surprising, colorful, and deceptively simple.

Her new series, “For Girls,” poetic responses to 19th and early 20th century women’s physiology and etiquette books, is delightful, and as I believe she’s going to treat us to some of those poems this afternoon, I’ll say no more about them.

I do want to say, before I bring her up, that I just finished Gamers, the Soft Skull Press book she edited wherein poets and musicians and other artsy types write personal, theoretical, and historical accounts of everything from Space Invaders to the Sims, and I have to say, it’s one of the best-edited projects I’ve read in a long time--I read it straight through, completely riveted, despite having (a) no time and (b) no interest whatsoever in gaming or gaming culture.

This is the part in the intro where I should link up the playful mini-golf aspects of her poetry to some larger, more grandiose idea of “Gaming”—“for life is but a game,” etc., etc.—but that would be obvious, predictable, and Shanna Compton is anything but. Please help me welcome her to the stage.

Nada Gordon's Intro to Michael Magee
Michael Magee is a senior lecturer in English at Rhode Island School of Design and director of its new Institute for Poetic Arts and Critical Theory. He is the editor of Combo Magazine, publisher of Combo Books, and the author of Mainstream, MS, Morning Constitutional, and Emancipating Pragmatism: Emerson, Jazz, and Experimental Writing.

Michael Magee’s writing is sardonic, well-informed, whack, capacious, soulful, cheeky, hilarious, and transgressive. His poems are cultish artifacts of a world off its rocker, and as such, sometimes get inside people’s bonnets and buzz around, making trouble. His classic anthem MAINSTREAM POETRY, in its splendid quasi-evangelical vigor, functions as a kind of theatricalized flesh-eating bacteria, showily devouring its subject as we watch in stunned glee.

As do all of the poets in the Flarf Collective (of which Michael is a key member), Michael takes much of his language from online sources. This re-purposing of language has taken on the loaded term, “appropriation,” – the ethics of which continues to be hotly debated as one of the central cultural controversies of our time – and about which I have composed this little tune:

Two hot twins of Peshawar are drinkin’ brilliantine
In the blazin’ sun of Providence, RI
And My Angie Dickinson, with glittering gray eyes
is pissin’ dead popes out of her urethra

Mike pulls out his laptop and starts googling squid
and soon dick cheney’s rendered in marzipan
That Mike Magee is messin with my head

Appropriation’s just another word for a lotta words to use
And poetry ain’t worth nothing if it ain’t free
And if taking words is easy, well now, how can we refuse,
Cuz stealin words is good enough for me
Good enough for me and Michael Magee


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