Saturday, September 02, 2006

Che Elias, Death Poems

Che Elias is probably one of the most original writers today, and one of the most real. His latest publication, Death Poems (from Six Gallery Press, with whom I am incidentally also published), furthers the project he began in 2001 with a book called Rockets Construe Vala. Death Poems, by the way, seems largely to resemble the form of all of Elias’ books, somewhere between poetry and prose, sometimes dream-like narrative:

And then she pointed to a hole in the floor which she wanted Oscar
to crawl into and she put him there and through some of the culture which
Wheeling consists of down there with him,
And he was down there for a
Some of the pieces in Death Poems have titles, but most don’t. This is from the section called “One Really Big Jar or Two Maybe”:

And he wore a fox mask
and he was just
who they called a real
piece of
he remembered that when he gathered around them all as they
were dying when he laid them out none of them said he was sorry...
In all of literature I can think of no one who has quite written anything like Elias has, with the possible exception of Lautréamont, or William Burroughs. He is that extreme, that violent, writes as freely as his own savage and true visions. What I wish to say is that none of it is for mere effect. There are so few now who write for nothing but their own sakes, out of compulsion, the actual primal writer figure (I was going to put this last phrase in quotation marks, but find no, I cannot), who is unaware of and unconcerned with the notion of acceptance – as Lautréamont and Burroughs were also rare examples, and perhaps Bukowski. Che Elias is such, or at least as much as it is possible to be so. Where many seek to exploit their pain in order to appear on Oprah, Elias is writing this:

Those questions they all asked you
Did they touch you
And they point to your crotch
Or was it there
And then they point
to your anus...
What was it these men did to you
Then, from the same section:

...They play images of themselves in Wheeling, the images of men
against Magic and in hell, they always cast that whole part of life on the
screen, that whole misery and the exhuming, some of them lay down in
In the last year or so it has come out that the author J.T. LeRoy is apparently the creation of Laura Albert. While I personally cannot judge what really happened in that situation, it does seem that LeRoy is, strict definition at least, a “hoax.” I mention this because it makes me think of Elias, but only by contrast. LeRoy was supposed to have been from West Virginia, and supposed to have suffered sexual abuse and exploitation. Many people have said that it was the “authenticity” of the figure of LeRoy, beyond the actual writing, that made him/her such an attractive proposition. But Che Elias really is from West Virginia (Wheeling), and really has had to deal with abuse. Death Poems is about abuse, and how it is used to control people. But Elias does not court victimhood in such a manner as to become a bestseller in today’s book industry, nor does he write in a very easily accessible style:

...That it is done that way in Wheeling, what filth you’ve
scorched, it was the neighbors, you could have your cock
splayed on the tip
in their basement
or in any other basement in Elm Grove,
I hear you’re
getting along real fine in West Virginia...
Elias is an artist above anything else. That he is writing about similar subjects as J.T. LeRoy is simply incidental. Yes, if you have suffered sexual abuse, as many have, you might “relate” to Che Elias, and this might give you the illusion of some extra insight into what is frankly a difficult work, a highly experimental work as regards form (the narrative line is cracked, many times over). But ultimately Death Poems has to be approached as literature, not as memoir, even though in many ways it is autobiographical. Ultimately it is in the writing itself that Elias approaches any kind of “redemption”; its existence is its own end. This is really a work about a person writing against his own death, and obviously that is the origin of the title. If Che Elias had not discovered literature I wonder if he would still be alive. Thankfully for all of us, he did.


Anonymous said...

Makes me wanna read Death Poems
where's the jelly at?

The Date Ness Creature said...

This is a datish review it makes me want to date you, it really captured the writing and principle feelings of me as a writer and my aims with this book.. date Like a lake creature

Tim said...

This is dead-on, Mike, & one of the things people overlook in Che's writing--beyond the weird form that one might take as being "literary" or "experimental" for its own sake, as if he's happy to be pulling something over on us, his work is entirely & simply human, an artifact. It's not written--so far as I can tell, from having talked to him--to be "literature" or not to be "literature", it's just written. It is the thing itself, & if you can find a way inside it--since it can't be "approached" like other writing--you'll see there simply isn't anything else like it.