Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Review: DJ Dolack, No Ser No

Greying Ghost is a really great chapbook press that uses real, old-school print techniques, and thus looks amazing. Nice paper on which you can sometimes feels the indentation of the type. There is texture in this kind of production. For DJ Dolack’s No Ser No, there is also black ink on black end-papers and a mysterious clipping from an early twentieth-century boating magazine stapled into the pages of this volume.

All well and good, you say, but does the poetry itself live up to that yellowed clipping? Yes indeed, and more. I ordered No Ser No kind of randomly — I wanted to support this press, and the Dolack chapbook looked the best to me of what was in print at the time (these are short runs and seem to go quickly — this one is numbered 150 copies). I’m glad I did. Dolack’s work is both surrealist and contemporary, both engaging and allusive, both New York and new mind.

This is not the kind of work whose meaning immediately jumps out at you, but it puts forward moods, works on the memory (even if the memories aren’t yours exactly), gives an idiosyncratic take on the modern world. The first poem, “Industries for the Blind of New York State,” opens, “Come from above / Are all in the trees” — an intriguing couplet. Syntactically, “come from above” is the subject of the sentence, which the verb “are” implies is plural somehow. “In the trees” sounds like the “industries” of the poem’s title, but perhaps that is coincidence. It is a conundrum, but the fact that it opens the collection seems to give it some weight. Clearly, Dolack expects the reader to do some work, or at least to proceed in a kind of Keatsian negative capability where rational meaning is not always a major concern.

“Where Our Data Live” segues into childhood memory with a speaker who this time draws some clear conclusions:

. . . people are no good.

Even as a child I had the feeling.
My grandfather tossing

a fresh nail gun cartridge
into the fire. Even then

I knew I wasn’t ready.

This is one of the more straightforward passages, including an arresting image. Perhaps my favorite poem in the collection, however, is “NYC Postcards (In Dollhouse Leather Jackets),” with its pleasant, O’Hara-esque evocation of Manhattan scenes and affirmation of life:

When You Are
In Love With The World

it fucking hangs out

The two of you
fucking
hang out And slowly. . .

I really like that idea, that you and the city can “fucking” hang out together, the city as an entity in itself, a friend. There is also something interesting about Dolack’s idiom and tone here — the voice sounds natural, similar perhaps to the way a certain American of the early twenty-first century, who is cool (of course I have my own definitions of what is cool now too), thinks and speaks. Refreshing to see it in poetry. And dig the capitalized words, providing emphasis: “When You Are In Love With The World.”

I’m not covering this whole collection (don’t want to ruin it all for you), even though it’s just 13 pages not including the old magazine clipping. But I also really liked the closer, “You Are the Most Difficult Kind of Happiness,” which plays around with space and typography. It is also in a sense the title poem, as it includes the lines “No serial number // no ser no.” This is a highly paratactic piece, so the relation of these lines to the rest is hard to get, at least initially. But there are associations to be had with the phrase “no serial number” — a kick against the cataloging and controlling of data in our world today, a rejection of the conformity and big-brother-type surveillance it implies? Maybe. In any case, Dolack’s poetry requires that the reader think critically and pay attention. “What’s worse?” he asks as the chapbook come to an end, “Bad eyes. // Now open them.” That is poetic advice good as any right now.

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