News from New Star

Miki’s fifth book of poetry, Mannequin Rising turns on three sequences of poems and photo-collages (totalling ninety pages): Scoping (also pronounced Shopping) in Kits, A Walk on Granville Island, and Viral Travels in Tokyo. Mannequins and manikins and all their various cognates and implications (models of human bodies, dwarf-sized humans, shop-window displays) haunt these poems and collages with consumer capitalism’s commodity fetishism. Could commodities speak, Miki muses (quoting, but slightly shifting, Marx’s chapter on The Mystery of the Fetishistic Character of Commodities), we would say: / … / What belongs / to us is our value. Our natural intercourse as / commodities proves it. Now listen how we / speak through the mouth of the economist. In the blink of an eye, it is we who are speaking, not some object we freely manipulate. We are the commodities, the mannequins—our social life an intercourse of prefabricated slots, dictated by an economist, in which we have ruse value. Is a choice / a ruse? Miki asks, in a playful/critical series of questions on Lululemon: Is a brand / a friend?
These poems trace the struggle of human consciousness and desire to escape the relentless pressure of commercialized images through which we communicate, a struggle to find something outside an all expense paid cruise / through the discourse of your choice, something outside we as manikins. But how does the poet speak when language itself and its formal occasions are loaded with the very things that make us mannequins? Miki is rightly suspicious of what con / joins us, rightly suspicious of mannequinism gone viral in quotidian life. Thus his carefully crafted poems resist easy absorption in sensory appeal of concrete imagery; he keeps language constantly jarring against its assumptions, the better to enable readers to escape trendy bundle[s] of crossed purposes.
Also attacking consumerist culture, Mancini’s Buffet World (with its nifty play on the name of the US business magnate) offers us a sardonic smorgasbord of kitsch food pictures beside poems such as Tang Dynasty, Air Raid Over Fields of Bacon, or On Behalf of the Potato Chips Industry I Would Like To Wish You A Very Happy Birthday, which pillory food habits and food marketing strategies. These poems critique the form and content of information, showing so-called facts and science as corrupted with commercial, exploitative motivation, and questioning the blizzard of factoids (news we didn’t need to know) commonly used in marketing campaigns:
we would need
45 gram packets
to transform Lake Vostok
into Tang
the vitamin-c rich
powdered orange drink
taken on every Apollo mission
The longer food poems are tours de force, some side-splittingly funny as they document spreading human mindlessness, others chillingly noir, like TDJC Reel which explores food habits and views on food of death-row criminals. Shorter pieces with less oomph include conceptual works (designed to point up their theorizing rather than for simple enjoyment in and of themselves), e.g. NYSE: ZAP, a two-page list of acronyms like YUM, WAG, DOO, VOX, MOO, etc. Other pieces hark back to concrete poetry, such as eleven pages of variations on the four arithmetic signs.
Persky and Fawcett’s tribute marks the passing in 2009 of one of Vancouver’s most influential literary voices—the scholar, professor, poet, mentor and “great companion” of poets and poetry, Robin Blaser. Disappointingly, Fawcett’s half of the book concerns mostly himself and the New American Poetics spurred by Charles Olson, rather than news about Blaser. Persky’s essay, however, is a real gem—a moving account of his literary companionship with Blaser and a sensitive and thoughtful reading of Blaser’s early work, which makes a good introduction to Blaser’s oeuvre. He contextualizes Cups, The Moth Poem, and Image-Nations, providing useful close readings and linking their thought to Blaser’s opera libretto The Last Supper. Beginning readers of Blaser will find here a very helpful articulation of his approach to paratactic thinking and his eye for the wonder in things. The essay also sheds much light on the complex interrelationship of Blaser, Spicer, and Duncan, who even at the height of their not-on-speaking-terms quarrels still read each other’s poetry. Companionship in poetry, Persky shows, must transcend gossip and petty intrigues. The essay is, as Persky comments, a defense of poetry as a way of thinking at a time when this is sorely lacking in public life. It is also a defense of poetry as a way of living, showing, as Blaser did, that politics, thought and physical bodies are inextricably entwined and must be allowed to be so in all realms of human activity.

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