Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Aaron McCollough's _Little Ease_

I don't know much about Aaron McCollough. I know we published him in The Canary once. I remember being confused but somehow taken aback by the poem we took. I know we misspelled his name on the back cover of that magazine. I know that he sometimes tries to grow a beard. I don't know if he fasts or partakes in other ascetic inclinations, but bearded men seem more likely to be so inclined then those who run a sharp piece of metal across their faces at regular intervals. I know that McCollough has three books, two from Ahsahta Press, a press that has been to me a cruel Petrarchan mistress, and a tease, and a vaguely Janet Holmes-shaped chalk outline of a place to place my meagre poetic aspirations. I know that Janet Holmes saw me read in Austin, and like others, probably assumed that the brilliant poems I read from Andy and my chapbook were Andy's poems. (Anne Boyer: "Andy's voice came across in the poems.) The careful reader will note that only one was an Andy poem. No matter. What this has to do with Aaron McCollough is that I am jealous of him and his poetic "success."

Other individuals less sanguine than I have suggested that Mr. McCollough is in some way fraudulent, not a "real" poet, that he somehow treats poetry as a hobby rather than the way of life that it is for some. Of course, some of these stone-throwing poetickal folk have rather rigid and assholish views of poetic purity--some of these folks are convoluted mystics. The irony here, of course, is that they blame Aaron McC. for faking his mysticism. I say "bah!" I should note, too, that I love his detractors they way a chimp loves another chimp enough to eat his lice. Yet still, yet still, I must wonder what makes the poet a fraud. Is it a life lived (or the perception of a life lived) that is somehow out of line with the persona that floats through the poems? Certainly we mustn't assume that the poet is the poems or the speaker in the poems. And then I think--well, but most of us do. Most of the time. Eliotic detachment is an attractive myth to the eager undergrad, but it remains, for most of us, I think, a myth.

If Aaron McCollough were sleeping with my wife I might have a legitimate beef, and my copromised mental state might fog my evaluative abilities and I too might dis his white middle-classed ass. But no. It is not the case. So then the poems. The poems.

I remember liking Welkin though being annoyed at such things as titling a poem "Prothalamion Moment #n" and the Tostian fluffy clouds on the cover. Little Ease features a much cooler sepia-toned man in a prison on the cover--I think it's Wyatt after he got caught with his hand in Hank 8's Boleyn Jar. The poems themselves impress me with what I want to call something hackneyed, like "lyric intensity." But I won't. As a book, by and large, something is not working for me. But I must say that the sections "Hospitality" and "Penalty" are perhaps the best purely lyric poems I've read since Ethan Paquin's Violence, a book which for a short time tried to wave the flag of New Sincerity. Or the flag was woven by its supporters and blurbers and Ethan himself in interviews in which he spoke highly of the Pulitzer Pugilist Franz Wright. And I liked Ethan's book a lot because it seemed to pressing the post-avant technique into the service of real emotion.

When McCollough is on, he's on. The most successful poems here mix archaic language (words with extra Es, kids!--but, no, wait! does it do that? maybe it just seems like it does that) with quotidiana that is both utterly banal and heartbreaking in its employ and implications. I have a feeling that this book is one I will return to for some time to come. It's just obtuse and "difficult" enough to turn me off, but has sections of such stunning and compelling lyrical clarity and sound (lyric, from the lyre. may it also be from the "liar"? i hope not, but art is lies, etc.) that I can't dismiss it, no matter how jealous I may be of the author. And, as usual, it's a beautifully made book. Ahsahta keeps getting better and better.

So McCollough confounds, disappoints, and at times even inspires disdain, or worse, total apathy. And then I read a poem, or reread a poem that failed to move me on a first read and realize that I am happy for this small good thing, these poems that operate "outside and inside the physical heart."

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