Friday, September 25, 2009

David Stone, Under the El

In my view, David Stone is one of our most original experimental poets, though he is not sung in the halls of academe or in the HTML code of poetry blogs as often as he should be. That situation will change eventually, I think, as time goes on and Stone’s small press collections, chapbooks, and pamphlets get collected into more readily available volumes.

One of these chapbooks, though, quite available now, is Stone’s latest, Under the El, published by Alternating Current/Propaganda Press. It includes the long poem “Under the El,” set in Chicago where familiar Stonean elements congregate: “& on the asphalt/ a turkey vulture dines.” Shorter poems return to the setting of Baltimore, that apocalyptic city where Stone now lives: “another murderous day/ in this sad city/ where teachers/ are raped by students/ & more beatings on the buses/ & on subways” (“The Subway Glance”).

This is a poet who takes up death, history, war, and urban America unflinchingly, but whose language is therefore a little weird — stripped down to short declaratory sentences, as if desperately clinging to some sense of basic grammatical order. Unlike some experimentalists, whose language often reflects the disorder they find (by all means a valid and often beautiful response), philosopher Stone seeks beautiful logic in the illogical, if only in a ritual sense (as in “YK,” his Yom Kippur poem). There is always a subject and a verb, often an object, though each might not be the expected.

A poem that succinctly illustrates what Stone does is “The Fire Engine”:

The Fire Engine

The fire engine
skidded through
the intersection
& crushed
a compact car.

Earth whisked
wizardous rants.

Breathers reiterated
the aroma of death.

The cell counters
apologized
in Socrates’ tank.

Order Under the El through one of the links here, or through the mail for $5 (plus $2 U.S. shipping; $3 out-of-U.S. shipping) via cash, check, or money order made out to Alternating Current, P.O. Box 398058, Cambridge MA 02139, U.S.A.

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