Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Zombies: Then & Now

Because Kasey mentioned zombies the other day I'm reposting this--an essay from an earlier, more innocent, class...

What is this?

Journal # 8 – Robert Grenier and Clark Coolidge

We have spent a lot of time discussing language in this class. Well you have anyway, while the rest of us stare unblinking at you as if we were extras in a remake of a George A. Romero film. Remember the movie “Dawn of the Dead” when the zombies longed for the brains of the living but were relentlessly gunned down in a shopping mall by the well-meaning “heroes” (I mean, come on, even if zombies don’t have “feelings” like the rest of us they were somebody’s loved ones—I just feel that blasting them in half with a shotgun or decapitating them with a machete is overkill considering that most of the time they could be taken out quite effectively with a sharp blow to the head with a baseball bat)? If not, I’m sure that you remember Barbara Guest and Jackson Mac Low from last week. They were the poets who, among others, talked a lot about language. If Guest’s An Emphasis Falls on Reality was about the birth of language and Mac Low’s “Dance” poems were about the usage of language, as I have previously claimed (see Journal # 7), then Robert Grenier’s poems are about the tools of language.

Even if Grenier’s poems were total gibberish (which they aren’t) they would “seem” to have substance because of the tool he uses—namely the IBM Selectric typewriter. When I was a kid, my parent’s ancient manual typewriter fascinated me. I would spend hours hammering away on it, not to create my literary masterpiece or even to write impassioned letters to the editor—no, I just wanted to see how many keys I could jam together at one time. Then along came the Selectric with its electric pseudo-efficiency—what a machine! Without those cumbersome keys my hyperactive imagination was freed to zip, efficiently, across the page at 70+ WPM! Since I no longer saw a future in key-jamming on a Smith-Corona (my boyhood dreams crushed like the face of the undead with a Louisville Slugger), I decided to learn how to write instead—something I’ve been doing, on and off, ever since. Grenier’s poems remind me of that simpler time—that time back in the 1970s when the costumes in zombie movies consisted of little more than gray makeup and thrift store clothing—and when I first discovered my love of writing.

Clark Coolidge’s manifesto Words had me reeling like a guy with a twelve gauge surrounded by flesh-eating corpses. Perhaps you were hoping that the zombie analogy would have died with Grenier, but it has, instead, crawled from the grave even stronger and smarter than before—in fact, it now bears more of a resemblance to the creatures in the film “28 Days Later” than anything Romero ever dreamed up. Coolidge’s words, like our weapon-toting heroes, are living, breathing entities—oh, sure they can dance like Michael Jackson in the Thriller video, but they can do so much more.

If I would have read Words only six weeks ago, I would have, embarrassingly (because I’m imagining myself in class doing this), scratched my head and said, “huh?” But my brain is so much bigger now (uh oh, I can only hope that no undead T.A.s—and I know they’re out there—are going to be reading this because, well, you know, bigger brain…)! Words makes sense to me in a way that I would never have expected. I am enjoying the feeling of “getting it”—that beautiful precursor to the magical ability to lavish elitist snobbery on others (a dream I’ve had ever since I first got the ‘F’, ‘G’, ‘H’, and ‘J’ keys successfully locked together like a Mississippi chain gang). Coolidge’s manifesto and his poems have opened my mind (insert your own zombie joke here) and inspired me to experiment with my own poetry. And, since I haven’t quite been able to beat the zombie thing to death yet (for God’s sake, toss me that lead pipe!), I’ll just add that, for me, Coolidge is definitely the hero of this journal. But does that, necessarily, make Grenier a zombie? I think Grenier might have a problem with that, so let’s let him be a hero too—but he doesn’t get the shotgun—no, if I have to use this cheapo plastic Microsoft keyboard, the least he can do is fend off those rotting spawn of Satan with his weighty Selectric.

No comments: