Saturday, March 19, 2011

Review: Elasticity / Cement Buddha

by Mark Weber and Ronald Baatz

Chapbook # 67
Zerx Press
725 Van Buren Place SE
NM 87108

Poem 4 Mark Weber's in this split chapbook asks 'Has the invention of the book/ become passe?' and proceeds to answer its own question in the negative: ' [...] it never breaks down, you/ don't have to pay a monthly fee to read it,/ no On & Off switch, it's your friend [...]' Terrific! and true. Perfectly illustrated by the pleasure of sitting down with this chap yesterday, holding it in my hands by my window in the afternoon (though Weber counsels not to sit at windows), no laptop overheating on my thigh, no headache-inducing screen glare as I stared a while, looking at the words, listening for Mark's voice or Ronald's voice to come out of the deceptively simple, deceptively unstructured (these fellows are artists) patterns on the page.

Weber provides 15 ruminations on music, poetry, art, the mind, winter (the poems were all written between December of last year and this February, so it's a new production), and the ageing of the body, which makes his half sound - if you don't know Mark - like the constipated labours of some TLS regular fulfilling a book contract; but it's all executed in this gloriously eccentric, seemingly casual, ruminative, funny style, like a story told by a half-drunk, recently-laid-off but philosophical genius in a bar. Some poems are short, some are long; some lines are short and some are long. If you're dull and over-trained and hung up on form and all that you may think his technique is slapdash but that's only your lack of understanding about where Mark's coming from artistically. Like the original Beats he has a musical ear, big jazz fan so I understand (I've never met him), but "Elasticity" namechecks John Cage and Chopin too. There's a wider range of structures and rhythms than you can find in the Oxford Book of Modern Verse, kids, whatever your lecturers tell you.

Ronald Baatz's section, which you get to by flipping the book over when you finish Weber's, is a sequence of linked poems with a Japanese influence, territory he's made his own before - Ronald is the best haiku writer in America, at least the best one I know of - only these use a form something like a looser tanka to describe, in separate but linked (if that makes sense) stanzas the complexities of a mature relationship, one that seems to be struggling to survive: she thinks his poetry is 'a pile of self-indulgent crap', their life seems to be affected by his inability to make money from writing, their lovemaking has dwindled away almost to nothing - and yet when she isn't there he's lonely. He says she is 'sensuously domestic' as he considers her, in her absence. This ambivalent, to-and-fro love is what everybody gets when they've been together for a few years and Ronald describes it wonderfully. Especially since it's set against the backdrop of the mysterious and cruel beauty of Nature: animals living and dying - the Kerouackian image of Ronald brushing a dead beetle into the lap of the cement Buddha in his garden (which watches over everyone silently, despite being 'a poor excuse for a scarecrow') -  the 'toothless, unromantic moonlight' in which the narrator and Hedy, his love, finally have sex; and the news, on the last page, that sparrows sing in their dreams. Somehow the courses of love and the courses of Nature mirror one another in Ronald's remarkable, deft hand. And even if the thing about the sparrows isn't true, the whole collection is worth reading through just to reach that point and think about it for a while.

Both sections of the chapbook come with drawings by the authors, and there's a photograph of Mark's head, in case you're wondering what it looks like. Email Zerx for purchase information if you're interested in getting hold of a copy of the book, but be quick if you are because there are only 400 editions.

One day, if there's any justice in the world (which we know there isn't), these things will be priceless.

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