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When poetry goes bad, on purpose

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There is a certain anxiety around high art. What are those opera singers saying? Is that Giacometti sculpture a little unsettlingly skinny? Is Stockhausen supposed to sound this way? And if I don’t like something, does that mean I don’t get it? Poetry too. Maybe especially poetry.

But with ‘B is for Bad Poetry,’ Pamela August Russell does away with those fears. It’s all bad. With titles like ‘Despair, Party of One,’ ‘Popeye, Hamlet & Sartre (A Rendering)’ and ‘Donner Party Review,’ it couldn’t possibly be good -- could it?

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The poems are so deliciously bad that they’re fun. Here’s ‘Joni Mitchell Configuration’:

Oh, I could drinka case of youand then pass outin my own vomit.When the EMTs arriveto pump my stomach,I’ll still be slurringyour name. Oh, I’ll still be slurringyour name.

That’s not the only lyrical reference (Dean Martin’s signature song makes the bad poetry grade too). And I recognized a few genuine poetry referents -- e.e. cummings here, Rainer Maria Rilke there -- it might just be that there’s a little bit of serious poetry play giggling behind the scenes.

The giggler is Pamela August Russell, a writer who, her bio says, ‘lives in Los Angeles by the freeway.’ That’s where all of us writers go when we’re not visiting museums, attending concerts or trying to read the subtitles at the opera.

-- Carolyn Kellogg


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