Lee Ann Brown’s Polyverse was selected by Language
Poet Charles Bernstein to be published in the prestigious New American Poetry Series. That’s noteworthy, given the sectarian nature of poetry scenes—Brown’s is hardly the sort of ironic, warily analytical work one would expect to get Bernstein’s imprimatur. The thirtysomething Brown is more heart than head, goofy in a troubadour-hippie-Fugs way, and more love-poem lyrical than second-generation
Language Poets. “As I pinch my nipples and think of you,” she writes in “Demi-Queer Notion,” “I’m sorry Frank O’Hara isn’t as cute as you expected.”

Not that Language
Poetry hasn’t left its mark
on Brown. Its influence is
discernible in the proliferation of grammatical terms—though thankfully Brown puts an erotic twist on this lifeless automatic pilot: “This comes of
whose period/Can make the sentences soon.”

But as the collection’s title proclaims, there are other modes at large here. We get the New York School’s faux naïf clarity in “Poem for Joe” (“I’ve always wanted to write a poem for you/So here it is!”); Beat erotics in “Thang” (“Being on top pressing down with your bone on his or her thigh or pelvic bone your fingers in her or on you if you are a man and or a woman”). But too often,
instead of being synthesized
into something exciting and strange, these disparate
poetics are flattered separately. You end up wondering, unfairly perhaps, what’s particularly new about this New American. Even the references to
Whitman, Mayakovsky, Sappho, and Stein come to seem dated, frozen in a sunstruck New York–circa-1965 atmosphere.

What saves the book from this terminally reverent tendency is Brown’s polymorphous relation to gender: “She’s a
minor flirt,/a cloud in trousers.” That and sex. But
as in life there’s less of it here than there should be. But
then maybe the orgy among
all these poetic influences
is just getting warmed up.

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