Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Shock of the Necessary

Linh Dinh wrote almost a week ago to say (quoted with permission) "I like the Bill Knott comparison. I have never read him, actually. Is this poem typical of Knott?" And on his blog, the same day, Knott expressed some pleasure at seeing "Survival of the Fittest Groceries" here and added "if i were only younger i'd know who this Linh Dinh is."

I wrote back to Linh saying that "Groceries" was a good example of one Knott mode but that he had other modes and tones. But really the truth is that no Knott poem is typical: they're all thorny and eccentric, like the poet, and that's what makes them memorable.

And (for Bill Knott) I can say that what always startles me awake with Linh Dinh's poems is that they seem less like precious literary confabulations and more like orders and warnings, each one bitten off in a great hurry. Here's one from his new book, Jam Alerts (Chax Press, 2007):

Investment Advices

Shimmering on the horizon, the four horsemen
Will arrive soon. Put all your liquid assets into
Baked beans, canned tuna and bandages.

After the almighty Dollar evaporates, the King's
English will shrivel. Therefore, toss your English
Dictionaries away, burn all of your English books.

The language he aggressively collects (from finance, law, history, porn) gets swept into the giant tidepool of his attention, whirled violently and disgorged in these poems, each of which seems to have wanted writing in the best, worst way. Linh Dinh's work is never random noodlings, pastel word confetti and pleasantries. Look elsewhere for that, but look here for both the necessities and the significant perils of our art, as in his poem "What Words Do" (also from Jam Alerts):

They cannibalize each other. The weakest ones
Are merely parasites. Grafting words onto words,
The wishy-washy don't trim away what's superfluous,
Resulting in ghastly weed gardens. Words, especially
Wrong and pointless ones, like to flit about, like bugs.

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