The Future of Memory

Bob Perelman, Author Roof Books $14.95 (115p) ISBN 978-0-937804-75-9
Perelman's substantial new collection, his ninth since 1975 and a standout even in this exceptionally rich year of poetry publication, opens with the bizarre confession that ""Aliens have inhabited my aesthetics for/ decades."" This perhaps ironic retraction of a career spent in resolute avant-gardism (""I/ seem to have lost my avant-garde// card in the laundry"") is only the first in a dizzying series of raids on a bank of personal and collective false memories, an investigation of socially produced irreality where every dream is faked, all the currencies are counterfeit, perception is hallucinatory and cognition programmed: ""The thought-track wakes and thinks,"" he writes in ""The Masque of Rhyme,"" ""novelty again, the same old novelty.// It's almost worse than royalty."" What keeps the phantasmagoria in poetic focus is Perelman's trenchant comic timing and his virtuoso command of syntax, which he hones against various constraints, including strict word counts in a number of the poems (""Confession,"" ""To The Future,"" ""Ohio Urn,"" and others) and, increasingly in the book's latter half, elaborate visual formatting (the shaped, page-centered stanzas of ""The Womb of Avant-Garde Reason""; the empty central axis of ""The Wounded Boundary""). Capacious, hilarious, allusive and disturbing, this book shows that there is a future for poetry as something more than projected memory or ""the same old novelty."" Poetry as presence of mind, active repossession of the senses, deconcealment of mystified structures; of risk, not recapitulation. At the close of ""The Manchurian Candidate: A Remake,"" Perelman writes: ""Those deprogrammed people glimmering beyond/ the evening's blocky conspiracy theories,/ willing their present without shooting our past/ to a bloody parable/ --have you found a way to call them yet?"" This book suggests that he has. (Nov.) FYI: Perelman's The Marginalization of Poetry (Princeton, 1996) is an excellent, opinionated introduction to language poetry.
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
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