Saturday, March 04, 2006

SKINNY EIGHTH AVENUE by STEPHEN PAUL MILLER

WILLIAM ALLEGREZZA reviews

Skinny Eighth Avenue by Stephen Paul Miller
(Marsh Hawk Press, 2005)

Stephen Paul Miller’s Skinny Eighth Avenue is a mix of the intellectual and the mundane. In his poetry, Miller reacts to his time and raises many questions for the reader—questions we often do not want to confront about religion, politics, and art. In this collection, he rants against George Bush, discusses the problems of tenure in academia, explores the idea of the Jewish imagination, and laments the U.S. lead war in Iraq. He does all of this within open forms that explore the page.

The playful movement of the poems over the page mirrors following the discussion within the text itself. Reading his work is like trying to walk beside him and follow his conversation as he moves, for in these pieces he shifts from topic to topic. At times, he shows us clear logical patterns, but at others he shows us connections that might usually be at play below our visual or perceptual range. The tone of these pieces is casual, such as in Frank O’Hara’s work, and that helps with his range of topics. Take, for example, these lines from “I’m Trying to Get My Phony Baloney Ideas about Metamodernism into a Poem”:

I phone my LA friend Ken Deifik who says he forgot
how articulate
the people they interview
in Woodstock are until seeing the new director’s cut.
Whatever the sixties is it melds
                              natural and
                               human concerns
                              unlike notions of
                               “human” and
                                           “natural” science
resembling Nazi laboratories and Utopias. (12)


In these pieces, he mixes personal life with major political/historical events, and often those events, as they do in this poem, push him to make connections with other major events.

Miller’s poetry in this collection is definitely poetry for current life, especially current activism. If there is any drawback to the book, it’s that several of the pieces, like “Pleasure” read like essays. On the one hand, these pieces can be seen as breaking the boundaries between essays and poetry; on the other hand, they can seen as pieces that would be better thrown into prose. That’s not to say they are not worth the read. Most of what Miller says in this collection is interesting, so if you have not already purchased your copy, you should.


*****

William Allegrezza teaches and writes from his base in Chicago. His poems, articles, and reviews have been published in several countries, including the U.S., Holland, Finland, the Czech Republic, and Australia, and are available in many online journals. Also, he is the editor of moria, a journal dedicated to experimental poetry and poetics, and the editor-in-chief of Cracked Slab Books. His books include The Vicious Bunny Translations, covering over, Temporal Nomads, Lingo, and Ladders in July.

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