Bad History

Barrett Watten, Author
Barrett Watten, Author Atelos $12.95 (152p) ISBN 978-1-891190-02-5
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
Watten is a dialectical surrealist of the political unconscious. His conviction that ""in order to write, everything must be put at risk; the whole world, in suspension, could fail"" infuses every sentence, and each combinatory spark between sentences, of this genre-defying document of our maleficent epoch. Whereas many postmodern poets are content to play cub reporter to social chaos, Watten practices history, which he calls poetry, as ""direct perception of totality,"" a difficult thing in the age of the jump-cut and sound-bite. The book's method is crisp, desiring, and encompasses a stunning range of events: the entombing monumentality of Philip Johnson's architecture, the administration of a dead parent's estate, the pathos of failed enterprise as captured in the quasi-rationality of quarterly reports, the demand for unconditional love, Los Angeles during the riots of May 1992. The individual prose units of this work, 30 in all, are composed of two or more discontinuous series that are cross-cut to determinate, if unparaphrasable, effect. A migraine and a screen-saver fuse in the mind of stumped writer; American planes strafe citizens on the Amman-Baghdad highway. As with last year's summative Frame (1971-1990), Watten's latest makes serious demands on the reader's attention. Not everyone will be convinced by the relationship between politics and poetry here proposed, nor find the redefinition of fundamental poetic concerns compelling. But for those readers open to the idea that poetry continues to transform in response to emerging historical conditions, this startling and uncompromising book promises to be an indispensable point of reference. (July) FYI: Bad History is the second release from the Atelos project, intended to publish 50 volumes. The project is directed by Lyn Hejinian and Travis Ortiz.
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