Originally published in Arthur No. 22 (May 2006)
PETER RELIC’S BOOK CORNER
Rage, Rage Against the Stuffing of the Couch
Two poets delve deep into worlds of work and non-work
Life Is A Phantom K-Mart Horse Starting Up In The Middle Of The Night
(Yahara Design Press, Madison, WI)
The Inertia Variations
(Kerosene Bomb Publishing, Los Angeles)
If their styles couldn’t be more contrary, they do have one thing in common: poets Alex Mitchell (neckburned nailgun grindhouse tripper) and John Tottenham (couch-crowned prince of lethargy) have both created, by force of will or resigned declension, their own poetic form.
Mitchell is a rock’n’roll addicted sweetly emotional fellow traveler. His poems are as much about himself as the characters they co-star: a mushroom-juicing buddy from back in Pompano Beach with a suicidal brother; a friendly transvestite crackwhore outside a Hollywood 7-11. He is as much of the barroom as he is anti-boardroom, his impulsive tales [impulsions] leading us through corners of associative memory emotional and imagistic. There is a lot of power in his poems—they inspire you to write, my highest praise. In a poem called “if penguins could talk” Mitchell is a bruiser with a bruised heart (“once a speedfreak, always a speedfreak,” he writes) trying to quit Starbuck’s. After going without coffee for two weeks (“although I was feeling better physically I was jonesing for a blast”) he caves: “I greedily slammed down some of / evil black poison.” And then he’s off on a tale that goes for five pages.
Tottenham’s eight line withdrawals from ambition barely give the reader time to get out of bed, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. A resigned indentation is what he wishes to leave (if he aspires to anything at all). In poems like “Time Moves, But Not I” and “I’m Not Tired,” he discharges himself of will, while subtly sublimating his own state of stagnation. He declares he lacks the energy required to laugh, and one chuckles. The brief nature of his poems allow him to maintain the guise that he isn’t doing shit—but when you read them together, you feel the import of the block he pushes up against the eternal pyramid of poetic ambition, and one realizes: all progress is incremental…to the point of imperceptibility..despite any onanistic self-recrimination.