2006 • 120 pp. • $14.00
The writings in Judith Goldman’s DeathStar Rico-chet are constructions engaging present events—catastrophes—the origin of which is being defined, in the sense of framed, by the term “tragedy” in current media. Goldman’s writings are enactments, not of the events themselves, nor are they descriptions of the events: They are enactments making a present in the speaking (as of Shakespearean, of current media, and of Goldman)—and enactments as thinking reframing being present. Thinking is her constructs, as such experiments. She’s made brilliant juxtapositions that may be exactly the same as the languages they were (or not), and that as such don’t either iterate or describe events. Rather than trapped in this current time’s enclosure, the reader is alert in Goldman’s passionate bombardment.
It starts us ricocheting across gashed gushes of misInformation—abuses of tragedy hardly past—and ends on cashed plans for the accidental future; but this poetry’s trajectory is cocked to startle us out of the compulsory wake over and over. Fact and factitiousness, set into counter-docudramas gorgeous despite their revolt against their very substance, wrangle an archival arsenal out of present conditions. Colliding and courting illegibility, they co-conspire against the rhetorical flights of a fetter. Out of Deathstar games, this contrascrapbook’s starling architecture stockfiles each “blast/And blazEquotE” into concussive refrains, contradicting the hollowing effects of abounding poststructural citation as they bolster our outlook against the floating wreckage of “protection.”
“In this violent and deeply accusatory book the cause and the effect are the restoration of our historical context as crime. The crime being murder. Deathstar/Ricohcet: The canceled check of a civilization. Somehow I don’t think that Pound thought his investment in poetry as “news that stays new” would be returned for lack of funds. The implications of Goldman’s work are immense.”
“Like a Situationist armed with a Search Engine, Judith Goldman provides a homeopathic cure for a polis drowning in news feeds that starve instead of inform. Listen, O, Citizens!”
Judith Goldman is the author of VOCODER (Roof Books, 2001), DEATHSTAR/ RICO-CHET (O Books, 2006), “the dispossessions” (atticus/finch, 2009), and L.B.; OR, CATENARIES(Krupskaya, 2011). She co-edited the annual journal WAR AND PEACE with Leslie Scalapino from 2005-2009 and currently edits a feature on contemporary innovative poetry for the e-journal Postmodern Culture. She is a Harper Schmidt Fellow and Collegiate Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago, teaching in the arts humanities core and in creative writing. In fall 2011 she was the Holloway Lecturer in the Practice of Poetry at University of California, Berkeley. She teaches in the English Department at the University of Buffalo.
REVIEW By Joyelle McSweeney in Rain Taxi, Summer 2007
Like much poetry of our present moment, Judith Goldman’s new book sets its sights on the present itself. Deathstar/rico-chet holds a mirror up to the post-Enron capitalism and post-9/11 politics by pasting found and quoted material into new and arresting settings.
Of course, by the time a poem is written, revised, submitted, accepted, proofed, printed, shipped, and read, current events have become past— but that doesn’t mean that poets can’t go on inventing new methods for keeping the present present in their work. Voice has provided one strategy to address this problem. The Flarf movement’s attempt to document the deranged, gory folksiness of American culture by collaging personal websites, Google searches, and message boards seemed entirely apt to the Abu Ghraib moment. Goldman’s voices come from more formal sources—the mainstream media via corporate/academic complex of the LexisNexis database. The resulting poems are less snide and more symptomatic of axes of power and complicity than the campy, single-shooter fervency that occupied Flarf. On the other hand, both Flarf and Goldman’s collages are products not only of technology but of technological, vertical, cut-and-paste thinking. In this sense, they deal aesthetically and processually in the same ephemeral permanency as our own point-and-click political moment. They’re up to the job of attacking the present because they’re made of the same stuff.
DeathStar/rico-chet takes two approaches to this problem of the present tense. One approach sets up a conceptual or formal framework that brings attentive pressure to bear on grimly mundane content; the other rejects conventional frameworks and concocts a parallel system of language at once as violent, arbitrary, and paradoxically prophetic of a fait accompli as a highlight reel of daily carnage on the evening news.
While both approaches seek to engage and even capture the presence of a still-present tense, Goldman’s more conventionally “found” poems—the one built from a LexisNexis search for the spooky Rumsfeldian “Office for Strategic Inquiry,” or the one working with hits on the word “tragedy” which is choked by a wordless caesura into twin towers of language—render unto the present a quality of recent-past-ness. The heavy formal frames stress the designing hand of the author; that plus recognition of the referenced events allows a reader several frames of conceptual and cognitive distance from the poem itself. It’s easy to “get” these poems, but the cost is a blunting of the poems’ edge. On the other hand, getting these poems admits a fluency with recent history that might imply complicity. After all, we were there, and we didn’t die stopping it.
More brutally affecting are the long poems, which build their own inevitable logic and provide no key to their reading besides delightfully gnomic glosses at the end of the book. Poems such as “case senSitive” and “FatBoy/DeathStar/rico-chet” send the reader tripping through a field of spectacular not-knowingness full of typographical change-ups and audio hallucinations. Recognizable voices flit in and out of the texts, while others become recognizable by repetition. Cage-rattling Enron execs and other Masters of War spit language derangedly at or near each other, and in the latter poem a legible but unpronounceable numerical mania takes over the text. Multivocal and multifocal, these poems are their own irreducible, tilt-a-whirl universes, engendering their own continually renewable present tense.
Projects like those of Goldman and the Flarfists prompt anxiety among some critics, who suggest that the poems’ topicality condemns them to the same fleetingness as the events they seek to depict. Performance artists such as Cecila Vicuňa and others have embraced the ephemeral as an alternative to the economic and political hegemonies that have caused hardship to so many on the planet. In Vicuňa’s thinking, a gesture in a remote location or on a city bus enters the stream of events without forcing its way into historical/political time. Thus ephemerality itself becomes a political strategy. In this sense, DeathStar/rico-chet sacrifices the permanence-expectation of literary culture to pry open a vantage on the aesthetic and political potential of the as yet unknown present tense.