Monday, November 17, 2014

Neal Armstrong reviews Eric Schmaltz's Mitsumi Elec. Co. Ltd.: Keyboard Poems (2014) and Stephen Cain's ZOOM (2013) in Broken Pencil #65

Neal Armstrong was good enough to review Eric Schmaltz's Mitsumi Elec. Co. Ltd.: Keyboard Poems (2014) and Stephen Cain's ZOOM (2013) (both of which are still available) in Broken Pencil #65. Thanks, Neal!

This is actually the second review of Mitsumi Elec. Co. Ltd.: Keyboard Poems, after Ryan Pratt was good enough to review such over at the ottawa poetry newsletter.
Mitsumi Elec. Co. Ltd.: Keyboard Poems
Eric Schmaltz

This chapbook is kind of boring, but in an interesting way. Maybe that's not a good way to start a review, but it's true.
    The poems in this collection are actually little visual art pieces made with a disassembled keyboard and black paint. Calling them poems is even a stretch, because there is very little that can be read; a few words and a few letters. This process violently brings the digital world into physical space, reminding us of the abstract visual quality of printed language. The page becomes a field, a space ripe for exploration.
    Schmaltz plays with chaos and order, alternately presenting Dionysian smudges and intricate latticework mandalas in an Apollonian mode.
    These pages are wry works of minimalism and the book contains no semantic content besides an ironic little note about safe typing posture and practices, hence why I called it boring. But maybe that's the wrong way to go into it -- these are meditations on the ambience of language and the tools we use to express ourselves.
    This zine should be approached with a mindset of contemplation, like a poet yogi waiting for the dance of the cosmos, perfect in its imperfections, to reveal itself in a quiet moment. It is compulsively re-readable, hypnotic like looking at a fire or the stars at night.

Stephen Cain

This is an excellent collection of poetry for people who don't care if the words make sense. Cain plays with sound, sight, and meaning in a chapbook that harkens back to the Dada days of early modernism. He engages with sound poems by the likes of Kurt Schwitters and Claude Gauvreau in a process of reverse-homophonic translation. He listens to poems that lack semantic meaning and finds words in them. It's all quite fun.
    Compare Hugo Ball's lines "zitti kitillabi billabi billabi / zikko di zakkobam / fisch kitti bisch" with Cain's "city kitty liable billy's bi billy's bi / sicko the psycho man / fish kitty bisque." The transfer from meaningless sounds into words with definitions pits sense against nonsense. Cain is a man drunk on word splitting and hollering joyful absurdities. His joxtapositions are rapid and twitchy and unexpected. The work demands to be read aloud.
    Cain is a professor at York University, where he has initiated many a student into the secrets of Dada, Surrealism, and the avant-garde. This guy is deep in the history of experimental poetry, and thus finds himself in line with innovative Canadians like The Four Horsemen, Chris Dewdney, and Christian Bok. His work strikes a balance between thoughtfulness and playfulness that is appealing even when it doesn't make a lick of sense. Highly recommended to weirdos.

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