HOLIDAY IN TIKRIT by KEITH TUMA and JUSTIN!KATKOERNESTO PRIEGO reviews
Holiday in Tikrit, by Keith Tuma & jUStin!katKO
(Critical Documents, Oxford, Ohio: 2005)
Also published as an uncensored html version in eratio #6.
Holiday in Tikrit, by Keith Tuma & jUStin!katKO, makes things happen. There is an uncanny, abject drive behind this long epic poem: it is as if it were powered by an electric current beyond human control. It works like a dangerous scientific experiment: the signatures behind this piece of work become a collective transfigured in the plural personal noun “we”, making it personal and impersonal at the same time, strange and empathetic in a single stroke.
The small-format chapbook, with a cover photograph of a U.S. soldier [we find out in the inside cover] making a high dive into one of Saddam Hussein’s pools as a Fourth of July celebration, can be described as an artifact, a metaphoric time-bomb if you will. The HTML version indicates Holiday in Tikrit was written “after Bern Porter”, the scientist involved in the development of the atomic bomb later turned artist and poet, but the paper version also includes “after Antonin Artaud/ After François Villon”. A triad of very evocative names, acknowledged as spectral engines propelling this Enola Gay of a poem, a howl for the George W. Bush America, a big, sound, emphatic “fuck you” to the world in the age of post-late capitalism.
The chapbook, as an object, is stranger, more difficult, than the Internet edition, where the poem becomes more “readable” in a traditional sense. As printed matter, both typographic design and the photographs included help give the poem a subversive aura, a more “punk” attitude, where the D.I.Y feel of the edition adds up to a possible intertextuality with the Holiday in Cambodia of the Dead Kennedys. As read on paper, Holiday in Tikrit seems more evidently political, but the self-censorship black bars covering unwanted words and phrases [put there “in deference to the many fine institutions, financial or otherwise, whose monologues blow the long winds of our global theatrics”] make it be something else, almost a different poem, if by poem we not only understand the words –as type- composing it, but the whole process and result of that complex textual circuitry. Because it’s not only the several “fucks” that have been censored, but words like “downloaded”, fact that only comes to light if one compares both versions. The chapbook version of this Holiday in global war-zone is then a continuation of the eratio Holiday, a sort of side-project, a post [but also intra and meta] institutional, public variation of the same theme where what is deleted is still there, as a black block: the celebration of negation; its affirmation as the becoming-meaningful of the denied word.
Differences between the printed and the HTML versions aside, Holiday in Tikrit appears before us unexpectedly, without warning, yelling with silent pain, maybe not unlike the muted loudness coming out of the image of one naked Vietnamese girl. The poem is structured mainly in quartets that are suddenly but fluently broken by a single line. This pattern is used throughout the poem until the final movement, in which all the tension [a very high electric tension, one could say] explodes into a downslide of words, an apparently unstoppable current of words that become known references that become something else. The poem opens:
after the acting up and backing off and the brushing up on
the calling for and calming down and the carrying off
after the clamming up and the chipping in and the coming across
after the coming up against and the counting on and the crossing out
there was nothing left to do but to tell them all to fuck off
A similar pattern will be sampled and remixed all throughout the poem, anaphorically repeating first words of every line [in the quote, the preposition “after”; in later stanzas, the personal pronoun “we”] and using phrasal and two-word verbs in gerund-form as nouns, preceded by the definite article “the”. The obsessive-obsessed usage of the preposition [as the particle that gives special –i.e, metaphoric and idiomatic, signification to a verb] builds the ground for the forceful, reinforcing, long closing off stanza, as well as of those in the middle of the poem, where verbs will defy referentiality to become something else, both political and aesthetic, getting shape from semantic metaphors but also from a very dense, marked alliteration:
we incited the soundtrack to explode in the alleys
we witnessed the street rending open before us
we beefed up and charged in and set it on fire
we chained ourselves to train-tracks in protest of commerce
The poem evolves, grows, warms up globally. The poem becomes, through a repetitive rhythm, a march of death, not with the grave seriousness of the passing trains one could listen in Paul Celan’s poetry, but, in this case, with the smile that becomes a sad grin, the revelation of the ridicule through very subtle irony.
Postmodern in the most positive of senses, Holiday in Tikrit reconciles the poetic and the political from the standpoint of a very acute consciousness of our inability to interfere, to intercede, to interact with and against the situation of the world. There is a sadness here, but also a cynicism, maybe the secret wish for a poetic revolution that would finally pay respect to the likes of Villon and Artaud, that would at last make of poetry a thing that happens, a ticking time-bomb that would not kill but wake from slumber. The poem, then, grows, out of the page, out of its framed stanzas, and by now, towards the end, it has become a nuclear mushroom of phrases, beautiful in its ominous, yet horrifying nature:
fuck us for not being Villon Artaud or Porter
fuck us for a buck and a half if you're lucky
fuck us for being Bubba's liberal rejects not abject enough
fuck us for pawning our dictionaries to rent a cheap hookah
fuck us for seeking safe harbor in fricative mouthwash babble
and fuck you motherless turds for bothering to read this
fuck you fuck you fuck it fuck them fuck us fuck it all
Probably the most used transitive verb in the English language, with a multitude of meanings depending on the preposition used after it, “fuck” is the sign of an emotion, the simplest, yet more complex, reaction to the state of the world after all we have done. But Holiday in Tikrit is more than a big “fuck you”: it wails like an alarm call, a machinery of loaded words, mainly verbs of action, inserting itself in our skin like the sharp spears of an expanding bullet we never saw coming towards us.
Ernesto Priego was born in Mexico City. He holds a BA in English Literature from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and an MA in Cultural Studies from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, England. He is a teacher, essayist and poet.