Over the past year, I’ve made occasional searches of the shelves of new and used bookstores for books of poetry that would challenge and draw me in. I’ve had some success but not to the extent that I had hoped. Whether I’m just not visiting the right bookstores, whether my expectations and tastes are out of touch with the times or whether this is indeed a symptom of the state of poetry – the effect for me has been to look elsewhere for new and engaging poetics.
One of the places I’ve looked has been my email inbox. Some months (years?) ago, I followed the poetry blog of Elan Mudrow, whose website states that he’s an English grad student at Portland State University. Despite my limited experience of the US of A, Oregon has long been a state I think I’d enjoy visiting. But this essay is intended to arrive at a review of Mudrow’s poetry rather than devolve into a “one day I gotta go there” ramble about places I’ve never been.
Mudrow is a consistent poet; notices of his new writing pop into my inbox on a regular basis. On his website, each poem is accompanied by an image intended to complement the poetry. This pairing of photography and words has become de riguer in this age of computer screens and mobile phones. It’s a practice I participate in myself – a practice that leaves me both a bit sad, as it suggests that the words are not enough of themselves, and a bit invigorated as it demands more from the creator in the first place. On July 25th, 2016, Mudrow published his poem Single Use Cup. I like what Mudrow’s done with this one. The image and poetry complement each other very (dare I say it) artfully – the words and image describe each other; they are consistent without tipping over into mutual narrative reporting. There is also substance for the reader/viewer to explore and move around within the exhibit. Perhaps the poem’s strongest, most evocative line is contained in the final statements,
I drink you while you’re hot, when the paint is still wet in your hands
But there are at least four lines that I expect to stay with me as particularly well executed. I recommend the poem.
On Mudrow’s site he says that “sometimes I feel like I’m constructing a system of art, other times I feel like I’m coughing up random words“; I suspect this is a sentiment that many poets might share at different moments. Certainly, I’ve stared at my heaps of journals and notebooks with varying degrees of satisfaction and chagrin over the years. Mudrow has also stated that he considers his writing “a kind of scatting, prose that is. It’s gibberish which initially doesn’t make sense, but somehow does by the time you’re done reading it.” This is a telling self-analysis. With Single Use Cup as an example, the stronger lines come later in the poem. What is not clear to me is whether this is a style which Mudrow has engaged with intent – bringing the meaning to the reader over the course of several lines – or whether this is the result of a spontaneous process: Mudrow wanting to write something (anything?) and only figuring out what after the first lines have been established.
A second example of Mudrow’s that is worth consideration is his Immortal Bricks, published on March 18, 2016 and, like Single Use Cup, a poem containing several layers and features to explore.
They’re unaffected by wind
Weather fronts, the rolling
Of heavy tires, the burn
Of the city’s pangs
Perhaps some of the best and most engaging new poetry (or scatting gibberish if that’s what the kids are calling it these days) is to be found on blogs and websites rather than bookstore shelves. Perhaps the digital age has expanded the poet’s art just as lyrical music has done for ages (Edit: more on this from my December 2016 post on Pye Dubois).
Mudrow is doing some good work as part of a new age where we all have the challenge and opportunity to construct a new system of art…or at least cough up a few random words that somehow make sense.
Update: Mudrow caught my attention again on April 14, 2017 with his poem Facts. The poem has a terrific stealth. Rather like a raspberry bush – a combination of thorns and fruit.
Photo: Toronto’s Old City Hall taken with my Blackberrry on cold February day in 2014.