THE NEW POETICS by Mathew Timmons
(TrenchArt: The Maneuvers Series / Les Figues Press, Los Angeles, 2010)
I had a good time reading THE NEW POETICS by Mathew Timmons. I hope such is okay with the author—that is, there is a seriousness underlying this project so that I hope the author doesn’t interpret my having a good time as not taking the project seriously. Anyway, I do take it seriously—this intelligent parsing of how culture is made (read: enforced), focused generally on “new” as cultural capital and specifically how it’s applied in the poetry world.
Yes, as Rodrigo Toscano points out in his thankfully brief but expansively on-point Introduction, the new is subjective: “always… negotiated but never ‘settled’ haggle.” And so, through fragments, paragraphs and longer texts, or non-existent text beyond the title, Timmons explores various “new” stuff like (and I quote the beginning of the Table of Contents)
The New Acrostic
The New Aesthetic
The New Aesthetics Statement
The New Affect
The New Alexandrine
The New Approach to Nature
and so on. Indeed, I like the (new, possibly inadvertent) poem masquerading as the Table of Contents—I bet it’d sound great read/performed out loud! Having said this, I realized after writing the first draft of this review that such a reading/performance of a Table of Contents is not new—I once saw the late, great kari edwards do it when she read the ToC from her book iduna (O Books) at a reading in San Francisco. Hah: nothing new here! Anyway, going back to title, the writings are published on a run-on basis, i.e. without page-breaks between each piece. As it turns out, some of my favorite moments from the book are just when the titles follow each other as Timmons opted not to develop the titular theme further with additional text. I liked, for example, the effect of seeing the following:
The New Art
The New Art Form
The New Ashes
I suspect I like the effect of the above because it can be difficult to discuss a “new art”. And I’ve noticed that, in discussing such a “new art”, some people sometimes lapse to discussing the “form” of it—often a doomed approach in terms of resulting critique manifesting intent since art is more than form. Thus, the result is (critical) “ashes.” (This happens, for instance, in many comments stream as people agree/disagree and then lapse to snark ...)
Anyway, titles. I sensed a similar art-to-ashes effect in the progression of these three unexplicated titles:
The New Different
The New Difficult
The New Dirty
Am I giving the impression the author should have stuck with just listing titles or lines in the form of “The New ___Fill-in-the-Blank”? I don’t mean to offer that impression, even as I offer the following as a comparison. Compare “The New First Kiss” below with the following “The New First Kisss”—the latter doesn’t have any text following its title:
The New First Kiss
The trials of The New First Kiss included a series of formula red mixtures and entries in the form of Merlot and Tutti Fruiti mixes and Victory! The New First Kiss is like dice on a thread. Since the other one went to hell (ha ha! I made a funny!), here’s another one, The New First Kisss.
No longer Juliet, nor the same author of the original The New First Kiss has been seen and heard at least 289 times. I quote, “And doll, don’t wear it out.” Come check out The New First Kiss inside the love doctor, then you can listen to The New First Kiss soundtrack over and over again in New York City, and Mexico.
The New First Kisss
Which do you prefer of the above two? Maybe preference isn’t the issue, but I do think that, notwithstanding the droll appeal of the first, the second “The New First Kisss” is as effective even without additional text. I appreciate the visual effect of the extra “s” in “Kisss” and how such a modest mark can have such an immodestly resonant effect (what was that song written for Rhianna because she has a great way of sounding out those “s”es…?).
On the other hand, why did “The New Economy” remain only a title? I would have thought this alone could spawn a tome of writings. THE NEW POETICS was published in 2010, which means Timmons already would have observed the effect of the so-called “Great Recession.” To not sound out further (so to speak) the effects (and creation of) the Great Recession seems a missed opportunity—would it be because so much of the effects are not “new,” being just part of a general business cycle, albeit with more extreme peaks and depths than the current young generation are used to? I’m not really being critical here as being surprised—one would have thought that the limits of capitalism as presented by recent economic travails would befit the book’s subtext of, to quote Toscano, “eviscerate[ing] the already tripped-up taxonomies of culture-at-large.”
But perhaps “The New Economy” remains, except for its title, text-less because it is an old argument? When I said the title could spawn a tome of writings, it doesn’t contradict that, already, tomes indeed have been spawned. For Timmons to say more—would that just be (as I used to say as a newbie-economist in a prior life)—belligerently badgering that point of diminishing returns?
But at what point of linguistic degradation do we stop talking about matters of import anyway? I sense myself starting to blather ... but take this as a compliment to THE NEW POETICS -- how it makes you think until your brain hurts.
In any event, it’s more than time at this point to note where Timmons does do well with certain writings comprised of more than just the title. I appreciate, for one, “The New Emotion” which opens with
The New Emotion is a collection of movement; Automatic Mechanical Self-Winding Movement. The key concept of The New Emotion is a multimodal presentation by a lifelike agent of emotion expression. The computing industry of the 19890s enabled significantly higher image quality, boosting diagnostic accuracy with less radiation exposure, giving us The New Emotion. Both formats were sanctioned by the child-rearing theories of the day in which the father was admired for displaying The New Emotion while still remaining a function of The New Emotions.
Now, I happened to read this book shortly after the heralded bout on the TV show “Jeopardy” between an IBM supercomputer named Watson and the quiz show’s greatest champions, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Watson won. I didn’t see the shows, but I recall being struck (charmed!) by one coverage of the match which claimed that Watson was most moving when he seemed uncertain.
That a machine comes off as affecting when it’s uncertain—surely that’s some sort of “new emotion,” I think, before I start pondering—was that an accurate observation? Was the effect in the observer versus the actual machine behavior?
Another favorite which presented text after its title is “The New Rejection Letter,” to wit
…with this being the email age, not responding to your email is The New Rejection Letter.
Yes! I remember when I first realized this phenomenon—I wrote a poem about it entitled “How Cyberspace Lost Midnight” which contains the line, “Emily Post is dead within the internet.” Well, wait a minute—I wrote that poem last century and it was published in a book, Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole (Marsh Hawk Press), that was released in 1998. Is this “New Rejection Letter” really new?
Which all finally leads me to a thought I had after finishing the book. “New” has such baggage, as Toscano points out in his Introduction (“Merely blurt ‘the new’ and watch the popcorn fly…”). Perhaps Timmons should have critiqued the “new” by changing all the references of “new” to “old”?
What would be the difference, say, between
The New Ideal Reading Experience
There is no match for….
The New Ideal Reading Experience.
The Old Ideal Reading Experience
There is no match for….
The Old Ideal Reading Experience.
Wouldn’t the critique remain the same, or sufficiently similar? Wouldn’t either version beg the questions, What is New? What is Old? as well as, last but not least, Who determines the Judgment? Who are doing the judging and who are being judged?
I am grateful to Mathew Timmons for writing a book that asks questions, then spurs the reader to ask more.
Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects as she's its editor, but she is pleased to point you elsewhere to reviews of her books. Her newest book SILK EGG: Collected Novels is reviewed or generated responses by Joey Madia in The New Mystics HERE; Allen Bramhall over HERE; by Amazon top-notch reviewer Grady Harp over HERE; by Leny Strobel over HERE; and by Jean Vengua over HERE and HERE. Her THE SECRET LIVES OF PUNCTUATIONS, VOL. I is reviewed by Edric Mesmer in Yellow Field and reprinted HERE. Her THE THORN ROSARY: SELECTED PROSE POEMS 1998-2010 is reviewed by Arpine Konyalian Grenier over HERE. Allen Bramhall also reviews the "Hay(na)ku for Haiti" series over HERE. If the latter two get you curious, please note that participating in this fundraiser for Haiti is supported by Marsh Hawk Press, publisher of THE THORN ROSARY: if you order at least $15 worth of booklets, you will receive a copy of THE THORN ROSARY which is priced retail at $19.95; this is one of the best bargains in the poetry world, even as it helps out with a Haiti fundraiser.