Tuesday, December 09, 2008

David Prater's "We Will Disappear"

David Prater's poems have a loose, casual, off-the-cuff feel, which does not preclude grace, poise, and charm. Many of the best elements that animate his We Will Disappear are elements which Prater has in common with Frank O'Hara. The most significant difference I can see is that of tone. O'Hara is light, bouncy, airy; Prater's poems are established as darker, sardonic, even ominous at times. Prater's veneer of post-modern ease and Pop knowing-ness mask what you might call, without undue exaggeration, a heart of darkness. There even seems to be a debt paid to Martin Amis; a sense of the corrosive, the embittered, the festering. This poem is called A Veteran of the Club Scene:

panic on the streets of south
yarra geez they shut us down
when i'm peaking it's a rip-off
shit's been cut with something
maybe brain juices? not mine
got the tip-off said get rid of
'em ages ago i loved to dance
though don't seem to have the
energy anymore i'm still here
propping up a legendary club
foot & nose patches stop the
bleeding bring on peace man
& another buggered recovery
whatever that means i forgot
my own name monday what a
bore youse young freaks just
don't understand we all need
a little helping hand to the
hot water dispensers if only
they'd mix it with cordial ah
those good old halcyon nites
hiya girls! ok sure hop in its
back to mine just let me say
you are you are a wonderful
repeat wonderful person yeah

If O'Hara handled this scenario (going to a club, picking people up, taking them home, with all the titillating scenarios/vignettes this implies), it would be a dance of joy. Notice the manner in which Prater undermines the scenario by expressing ambivalence, cynicism, and a feeling of unraveling loose ends: the first word of the poem is "panic"; Prater's drug-high is a "rip-off"; he doesn't have the energy to dance anymore; there is an issue of "bleeding"; he is "bored" by the "young freaks"; he has to call his picked-up (presumably one-night) friends "wonderful" twice, more to convince himself that they are wonderful than for any other reason. You could call this a poem of lost youth, only it would seem odd because the poem presents us with the poet in medias res. What we see is a tension between the poet's stream-of-consciousness and what the poet is actually doing (clubbing), and the fact that these two elements seem to be more-or-less at war. I find this compelling because it implicates, both directly and indirectly, the youth culture which encourages people to pursue childish fantasies, and to look for happiness in transient pleasures. If Prater were to preach or moralize, the poem would fall flat on its arse; because Prater is able to show not tell, his poem becomes valid social commentary. Prater's struggle becomes our struggle; none of us wants to get old, none of us wants to be boring. Prater shows us how "veterans" of the club scene (much like Baudelaire's veterans of pleasure in Paris Spleen) become trapped by their own attempts to keep up, to keep the party going. Search Poem #9 puts another spin on this ball:

search only in fucking
viewing in google page rank order
view in alphabetical order toto reviews
more interesting than the phonebook
comment (4) google fucking sucks?
thanks to whoever hit this site after
plugging google fucking sucks into
google lesbian adult image gallery
opposite a google unhurreidly trades
the sex stopping cum to an in-flight
perfect example article google removes
google removes DMCA offenders
by U.S. Marine I'm impressed!
by cow eater fan don't blame google
it's the fucking DMCA again!
google's swift removal of anti-scientology
sites is only a tip of the iceberg
search engines cannot test test test
anyway just as I was about to write some
brilliant fucking retort to the whole
google bombing fiasco ben goes off
and writes some lost canadians in a dark
dark place canada sucks i hate canada fuckin
canada fourth most relevant on yahoo
and google cached-- similar pages

What Prater offers us is again stream-of-consciousness, and once again there is a certain amount of cognitive dissonance involved. We see how the Net has effected our Collective Consciousness, and what it is like to do something that O'Hara and his buddies never did; sit in front of a computer, absorbed in the endless melange of information, opinions, and saber-rattling that is the Internet circa 2008. "Fucking" in the first line clues us in that there is anger involved; who hasn't succumb to a fit of "Net Rage" at some point? Anger arises because ideally, it shouldn't be that way; as with "Club Scene," there is a moral undercurrent which implicates Western culture, and which again brings to mind Baudelaire (a most beleaguered and severe moralist.) Prater uses repetition and parallel structure ("google" appears in the poem eleven times, and opens lines 8, 13, 17, and 22) to create a mood of claustrophobic intensity, of walls closing in. As with Juliet Cook in Horrific Confection, this is a text tightly wound, tightly closed in on its own subject matter and, to quote Eliot, hard, curled, and ready to snap. The comfort and safety of "open" formality is done away with, because the circumstances being rendered are not open. This is full frontal assault; like Amis in Money, a barrage approach is deemed most efficacious. For those of us who live right on the post-modern edge, this feels more right, more apropos, more direct, and more pertinent than what has been standard in post-avant up to this point. Poets are eschewing "open" texts because poets are not leading "open" lives; the global economy is suffering, resources are scarce, chaos is just a step away. Prater's book is not comforting on any level except one: that comfort that comes when masks are stripped away and this essential truth, of how we are living now, is revealed.

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