Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Rodrigo Toscano: Platform

Been having my doubts lately about this "100 poem-books" thing. Not sure, that is, what the use-value of the project is. Notes, obviously, too short to serve as serious "reviews," always in danger of falling into mere blurb-copy, the sort of stuff the TLS editors have an ongoing column feature devoted to making fun of. The fact is, I reflect drearily, that I'm too scattered to have much of substance to say about what I'm reading. Perhaps, as a bear whose very little brain is ill-fitted for pomo multi-tasking, I should spend less time watching poll sites, listening to 5 tracks apiece from 4 different albums, reading blogs, dipping into 7 different books of lit crit, scanning a chapter of Ruskin, playing the same song 5 times in a row on 2 different guitars, checking my e-mail – you get the picture – & buckle down to the serious business of mastering contemporary poetry. (We don't have cable, by the way, because we recognize it would mean the absolute end of my intellectual life, already under siege from a stack of DVDs.) What's the good of putting up a public snapshot of my futile efforts to get with it? I.e., to work my way through what was the hottest book among the cognoscenti – four years ago?

Any way:
Platform, Rodrigo Toscano (Atelos, 2003)


A biggish book of very exciting poems. RT reinvents, revitalizes the hortatory political poem in post-Langpo idiom. That is, these rousing & very funny poems are every bit as committed to a hard-Left politics as any of the soapbox-stompers from the 1930s that Cary Nelson's written about, but Toscano's a political poet who's read & absorbed his Brecht, his Gramsci, his Frankfurt School, his Hardt & Negri. Terry Eagleton's been arguing for a decade now that "postmodernism" – & what he means by the term is so broad it's almost risible, a branch to beat whatever thinker he's dissatisfied with at the moment – is politically a failure, that the multiple ironies & cynicisms of post-70s critical discourse render their users unable to gain the firm purchase of the "real" that's necessary for meaningful political interventions. (Similar attacks have been levelled at the LangPos themselves.) RT shows that it's possible to forge a new, every exciting, & very alive political poetry precisely out of the ironies & cynicisms that have become the lingua franca of the dissolving present.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that the man's a brilliant satirist, in the best Jonathan Swift-Monty Python-South Park tradition. Nobody – ardent humorless working Leftists, quietist poets, armchair academic Marxists, the whole post-avant literary establishment, & of course the phalanx of ghoulist plutocrats who run our government & economy – comes out of Platform unscathed. But it's not a self-dissolving, foundationless satire, either, but one that forces a reader to think thru her/his own position, leaves a reader uncomfortable in the best Brechtian manner.

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