The first thing
to strike this reader about Tysdal's first poetry collection is the
physical appearance of the vehicle itself: the book's non-standard size,
red, black and white in-your-face cover, heavyweight paper, print that
exudes the strong chemical smell of a new art book. "Expensive," is
the next thought that creeps into my Capricorn mind, followed immediately
by a more generous "generous" (with an impossible to repress "why? this
is a poetry book, for heaven's sake, not a Ferrari ad") and, maybe the
publisher is on to something.
All of this changes
yet again once the book is open, to plain jealousy at the sight of the
luxurious space in which the poet can wallow to his heart's content,
his lines having the freedom to stretch their arms and still not reach
the margins that not so much enclose as support and frame them, a penthouse
vs the usual modest bachelor suite. Room enough to take on today's complex
And that is exactly
what Tysdal does. His eyes wide open, he plunges into the culture of
instant communication and easy gratification, and dissects it using
language both as a tool and the body on the table. His words are as
nimble as the fingers of anyone who has grown up with a computer, his
images as varied as those that can be accessed on-line. Even though
his subjects are weighty--crowd manipulation by the advertising machine,
drugs, on-line suicide, on-line pornography, war, environmental destruction--his
handling is never heavy-handed.
In "Pictures from
Archie: Riverdale, At This Dreary Hour," the innocent characters from
Archie comics are taken on a wild ride, where they throw up in a bar
washroom, watch porn stars on the Internet, french-kiss, write poetry.
In "Faces of Bukkake 6," 47 men are shown masturbating to a video of
a naked woman. To give the women back her humanity the poet directs
the men's, and our, gaze to the woman's face, even as her body goes
through its mechanical motions, even as the poet knows his words will
not change this. "Beyond The Private Life of a Fingerprint" is an illustration
of how a brief mention of a tragedy in Harper's magazine becomes fodder
for writers and artists.
Every poem is written
in a style different from the preceding one. This acts on the reader's
attention as a friendly pinprick--wake up friend, we are starting from
scratch here. The text of "One Way of Shuffling Is Ten Hours into Back-to-Back
Sessions Going on Tilt," which takes a look at Genesis, is laid out
like cards in a game of poker, to reflect the poet's take on our origins.
"'in the /beginning,' / . . . There / were / no / odds stacked / against
/ any/body. // Every chip / bet / by Adam / brought / the same chip
/ in return." (24) The layout of the title poem mimics an Internet screen.
The poem's text runs down the margins, in small print, while the middle
panel contains a jumble of ads and trivia printed in a variety of fonts,
which is summarized in the bottom right corner as "All of This Aspires
to the Condition of Muzak," printed as musical notation.
An occasional traditional
prose poem weaves its way into this riotous collection. Visual images
are intertwined with the text. The most moving example of the last is
"Missing,"a poem inspired by posters of missing children. The black-and-white
photo of a boy and the text broken into rectangles the size of the photo
work together to produce a heart-breaking whole. "The Poster . . . a
reverse piper / calling / them closer / but not / all the way / home."
(74) The most horrifying intermingling of text with visuals occurs in
"How We Know We Are Being Addressed by the Man Who Shot Himself Online."
The pace of Tysdale's
poetry is quick, his tongue witty and well-informed, his style a mixture
of playfulness and irony--the titles of most of the poems are as long
as the book's title--and dead seriousness. You will find no rants, and
no easy answers in this collection, even when great minds of the past
are consulted. What you will find is one carefully crafted and intellectually
stimulating question after another. The future of the poet's one-year-old
nephew is at stake here. (27)
If all this sounds
like a Ferrari ad, let me quickly add that I didn't care very much for
"Cohen." It had the feel of an oral piece written to please a crowd.
But I suspect this will not slow down the book's, or Tysdal's, progress.