ARRONDISEMENTS

Ethan Paquin, Author, Douglas Oliver, Author . Salt $15.95 (156p) ISBN 978-1-84471-015-7

Video games and Parisian wanderings serve as brilliantly unpolished microcosms in this posthumous collection from Oliver (1937–2000), one of Britain's most admired contemporary experimental poets. The death of the Scottish-born Oliver (Penniless Politics ; A Salvo for Africa ) cut short a planned series of long poems about contemporary Paris, where he and his wife, the American poet Notley, lived. This volume collects three such poems, linked only by their Parisian locales and by Oliver's restless, self-interrogating temperament. "The Shattered Crystal" traces European history, Jewish heritages and the legacies of Paul Celan and Heinrich Heine, two Jewish poets who wrote in German and died in Paris, their weighty language casting doubt on Oliver's own: "My poorly-made road's good only/ for a word-created world." Shorter and slighter, "China Blue" considers the Asian presence in Paris neighborhoods through a series of almost photographic short works. Most of the volume, however, comprises "The Video House of Fame," a hectic, heady rewrite of Chaucer in which the poet (with a French speed-freak acquaintance) fights and meditates his way through the levels of a video game called "Regender": the game gradually becomes a figure for the construction of identity, even as Oliver jokes about its extremes, its "regime/ without persons" where "Unpredictably/ I explode." In staccato bursts that barely contain the frantic pace and shell-like feelings of flashing lights and too much meth, Oliver comes as close as anyone to rendering the body-without-organs, with videographic armature directly connected to the pleasure state. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 02/23/2004
Release date: 07/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
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