Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Psychotic Verse

A warning to more sensitive readers: The following post contains references to violence, profanity, and thematic elements (I'm not quite sure what they are but I know them when I see them)...

Paul Allen: Why are there copies of the style section all over the place, d-do you have a dog? A little chow or something?
Patrick Bateman: No, Allen
Paul Allen: Is that a rain coat?
Patrick Bateman: Yes it is! In '87, Huey released this, Fore, their most accomplished album. I think their undisputed masterpiece is "Hip to be Square", a song so catchy, most people probably don't listen to the lyrics. But they should, because it's not just about the pleasures of conformity, and the importance of trends, it's also a personal statement about the band itself.
[raises axe above head]
Patrick Bateman: Hey Paul!"

From American Psycho, 2000

I introduce these lines from American Psycho not only because I think it is a really, really good and under appreciated dark comedy, but because I believe they relate well to both Shelley's A Defence of Poetry and Charles Olson's Projective Verse. The nod to the "pleasures of conformity" that Patrick Bateman (played by Christian Bale) gives when discussing a very
bourgeois Huey Lewis reminded me of Shelley's essay but it was the axe that brought to mind Olson. Imagine that the head of the Paul Allen character (played by Jared Leto) is syntax and that Bateman, like Olson, is a modern poet who wields an axe instead of a pen. The style section spread across the floor, then, is FIELD COMPOSITION. Now, if we accept that Paul Allen's brains, blood, and skull fragments represent the syllables used to create PROJECTIVE VERSE then we can take it one more step and see, very clearly, that the raincoat represents the aversion by "establishment" poets and the general public to what Bateman, uh, I mean Olson, was trying to do--well, you get the (very sharp) point...

Leaving the above comparisons behind (oh you can be sure they'll return just like American Psycho 2: All American Girl only not as lame but, sadly, without William Shatner) I would say that Olson, despite his bantering tone in Projective Verse, was only partially kidding. We can see projective verse in action in his poem, I, Maximus of Gloucester, to You, written in 1953: "and a man slumped/attentionless/against pink shingles" (Part 3, lines 22-24). Here the "conventions of logic has forced on syntax [are]...broken open" (388). Of course what he was doing was nothing new (he even mentions that Cummings, Pound, and Williams were already doing what he was talking about), but America in 1950 was still the land of Robert Frost (hmmm...maybe it still is) and there were big changes in poetry on the horizon thanks, in no small part, to Olson and his contemporaries.

With Projective Verse Olson has written a manifesto that contains, in its language, as much rage, violence, and dark humor as American Psycho (you were so warned). Olson talks about verse as if it is a tangible thing (and to him it probably was--he was, as Kasey has said, crazy, after all). Olson doesn't just compare the poem to energy--he says it is energy. In fact it "must, at all points, be a high energy-construct and, at all points, an energy discharge" (387). Like the Bateman character, the poet "can go by no track other than the one the poem under hand declares, for itself (387). Perhaps this is why Bateman uses a variety of weapons to dispatch his victims including a knife, chain saw, and the ever-popular nail gun. The line must be split in half ("the HEAD, by way of the EAR, to the SYLLABLE/ the HEART, by way of the BREATH, to the line (390)) because it (think of Jared Leto's head) "has, is, a deadness..." that "we (Bateman?) are bored by" (390). I could go on and on of course, but I won't. I am satisfied that, if I have achieved nothing else with this post, you will never again be able to watch American Psycho without thinking of Charles Olson and vice versa--and, perhaps, that is for the best.


///MR YORK\\\ said...

The fact that you can relate both readings to American Psycho, OH MY GOD!!! I can't believe I didn't think of it! But it is perfect! You draw perfect parallels. Very clever.

Michael said...

Thanks...wait until you see what I do with Pound and Talladega Nights!

K. Silem Mohammad said...


///MR YORK\\\ said...

Eagerly waiting.