info ration by Stan Apps
(Make Now, Los Angeles, 2007)
Stan Apps' info ration is a depressing read. I did not enjoy this experience.
But that's because I'd rather not go to poetry to be depressed. When I turn on television news I get depressed. I turn on television news more than once a day. Why would I go to poetry for more depression?
Yet that is part of the power of info ration. Its contents -- by reflecting its times -- are depressing enough. But the fact that the book was published in 2007 and still remains timely is another layer of depression. To cite the poem, "MILITARY ATTACKS" here is to share an obvious example given how it was written before (as I write this) the latest re. Libya. The fact that Royal We are always at war doesn't diminish the effect.
A more powerful example would be "Humanitarian Camps" as such alludes to the prolonged narratives of long-term inabilities to find solutions, nay, how solutions become part of the problem:
food and medicines were handed
to help their impoverished families survive,
one blindfold later, a reporter sees
girls aged from eight to 18 were having sex with men
a cell phone for fear
police officers and teachers were also guilty
(from "Humanitarian Camps")
Apps (literally) goes closer to home than wars an ocean or so away. His "4 Property Poems" are among the most potent; they also showcase one of his poetic strengths--a punchy rhythm that facilitates message, as in
I'm acting out the spirit
of my great-grand-pa's crime
because I'm loyal, one,
and because it's compatible with
self-interest and therefore rational, two.
and because girls like it, three,
because they like the finer things.
and because you should just see,
try to see, visualize
the social collapse
if we lose our existing arrangements
and everything becomes disorganized:
mansions sliding into holes in the ground,
and gunfire, lots of gunfire,
machines guns mounted atop
SUVs, and nowhere in the world to get a loan:
A world of shit, that justifes the present, four.
Now, I don't think Apps was out to depress me or anyone else. That's depressing by itself. Because, the thing is, as his book cover suggests with its image of a family watching television, I get the impression that all Apps had to do was pay attention at how people are behaving and these poems erupted. Perhaps that's what's most admirable here -- that he didn't turn his eyes away or chose to lapse to less uneasy imagination.
Ultimately, what's most indicting (of us all) is the matter-of-factness in many of these poems that cannot quite hide the fact that they are protest poems. The tone had to become matter-of-fact because what's under scrutiny is more than pervasive--it's inbred. Mostly, the poems are just reporting. Because Apps is smart enough, too, to get how
Political poetry makes me feel hopeful
Anything's possible in political poetry
A leap of imagination replaces governments
Political poetry rarely oppresses minorities:
It either doesn't mention them, or it glorifies them,
Usually. Political poetry admires human action.
The poet writes as a form of action, a strangely
inactive form of action, like imagining jogging.
(from "Forget Political Poetry")
And if the language is often non-poetic (so to speak), it's because Apps also is inverting something else he's observed (and notes in "Forget Political Poetry"):
Political poetry is sometimes different from normal language
In order to show how stupid and enslaved normal language is.
It may be depressing, but info ration is one savvy book.
Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects as she's its editor, but she is pleased to point you elsewhere to reviews of her books. Her newest book SILK EGG: Collected Novels is reviewed by Zvi A. Sesling in Boston Area Poetry Scene; by Michael Leong in Big Other; by Alan Baker in Litter; and by rob mclennan. Stephen Hong Sohn also reviews SILK EGG along with two other books, NOTA BENE EISWEIN and FOOTNOTES TO ALGEBRA: Uncollected Poems 1995-2009 at Asian American Lit Fans.