The Multiple
by Calvin Bedient
Omnidawn, $15.95 (paper)

Calvin Bedient’s fourth collection of poetry is a concentrated verbal expression of what may be called a Sadean sensibility. Yet if one wishes to position Bedient avec Sade, it must be the Sade that shadows Marx: a libertine materialism surges outward in Bedient’s writing from the turbulence (Latin, turba, meaning “crowd”) of the body—equivalent to what he calls “the multiple.” One discovers a vision of the turba that is sexual, filthy, abject—a compound of “dirt” and “electricity.” Bedient’s stance resembles that of the radical philosophe: infidel, aesthete, pornographer, agitatrix. Ritualistic scenes of deadpan horror swiftly develop in these poems, sometimes grafting pain and explosive relief: “the table where you shoved animal, padrone / O blue piano chili this bloodied cotton.” Routine gestures of de-sublimation wrench the tissues of delicacy and luxury into the gutter. Yet the substance of beauty, conveyed in part through Bedient’s exquisite diction, prevails. Even so, private parts in these poems are handled coldly—with “semantic gloves”—sounding the erotics of a “shattered” Aphrodite. Often unbearable in their rebarbative power, Bedient’s poems become prey to their own convulsive ditties of nerve, shock, and peril: a sacralization of meat. But this Sadean reading fails to acknowledge the great tenderness, joy, and serendipity of these poems. Fusing Artaud with the homeliness and eloquence of Bidart, The Multiple reveals Bedient to be one of the most exciting and volatile poets of our time.