Some Common Weaknesses Illustrated
Casagrande Press, $10.95 (paper)
Immanuel Kant, not primarily remembered for his sense of humor, once explained laughter as “an affect that arises if a tense expectation is transformed into nothing.” If this were the case, Carson Cistulli’s debut collection would be a book of jokes, not poems. Cistulli is a master of deflations and diversions. Take these lines from the beginning of one of his prose poems: “I was alone but still surrounded by close friends. ‘Is this some sort of logic problem?’ asked one of my students as he drank himself to the point of needing another drink. ‘No,’ I replied, but of course I was lying.” Still, in Cistulli’s poetry, these deflations represent possibility, the possibility of a literary landscape constantly ruptured by popular culture, and vice versa. His verse is populated by both “obscure Midwestern people” who speak only in video game music, and Rimbaud, who leads the poet on a rapine rampage through coffee shops and “pastoral settings.” Cistulli’s absolute immersion in the current and the quotidian is of a piece with the “I do this, I do that” poems of Frank O’Hara and Ted Berrigan, but lacks the touching grit that finds its way into those authors’ poems. But unlike some of his contemporaries who use pop culture to mask their sincerity, Cistulli sincerely engages with pop, finding in it as much depth and insight as others find in the conventionally poetic. In a poem dedicated to the former journeyman forward of the Boston Celtics Jiri Welsch, Cistulli contemplates the genesis of his poetic approach, “Later on, ‘The God of Post-Game Analysis, along with his cronies Empty Rhetoric and Retarded Catch-Phrase, raped the Goddess of Acute Observation, who then bore The God of My Creative Powers, a sickly waif tormented, constantly by Nervous Temperament and Boston’s Offensive Woes.’” Like a televised sports–crazed Whitman, Cistulli embraces his status as the bastard child of pop culture and the poetic tradition and merrily sets off to create the verse of the Pepsi Generation, for the Pepsi Generation. It is a refreshing change.