Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Slouching Towards Iambic Pentameter

By Phil West

AUGUST 4, 1997:  Christmas in the middle of summer is so much fun. Especially at the shelf where the review books come in. "Take what you want," said my editor as I hopped through the door a couple of weeks ago. The kind of perks I can learn to love. I already had a little stack going before the windfall, and now, it's close to being a teetering stack. So, let's start at the most illogical place - the bottom. That is, the books I picked up a few months ago. The poetry books I'd waited for for months.

At the last South By Southwest Poetry Show, San Francisco's Manic D Press featured four poets in a show-stopping showcase. The Bay Area duo represented in the round-robin, Oakland's Beth Lisick and San Francisco's Justin Chin, are two of the most dynamic poets on the slam poetry scene, each with distinctive styles and memorable presences, and in releasing their books, Manic D has done a valuable service to slam fans by giving scripts which with they can follow along.

The books are also great reads. Of the two, Lisick's Monkey Girl (Manic D, $11.95, paper) provides the most immediate gratification. Comprised of fast-moving prose pieces and narrative poems, the book is full of savvy observations and smart personal politics from a sharp and sassy writer. One of Lisick's primary strengths is her journalistic ability to get and use great quotes, such as the reprehensible men from her "Man Comes Up to Me in a Bar" series, or from the owner of a San Francisco rock club who says, "I can't bring my ad in. I'm too depressed. Here comes stupid ass fucking Christmas and nobody cares about rock and roll." But Lisick also makes a number of cutting observations on her own, especially in "The Answer Is Plastic," based on her high-school stint as a secretary for a plastic surgeon, and her highly caustic "Skinny," a piece about anorexia that deceptively appears insensitive before revealing itself to be nakedly, transcendently profound.

Bite Hard by Justin Chin (Manic D, paper, $11.95) contains a denser thicket of poetics and language than Lisick's book, and his tattooed punk edginess and gay Asian heritage starts his writing off with a propulsive and combustible inertia which he often takes to extremes. At first read, his barbed tongue and fearless writing style might be unsettling, but it's just that quality of shake-up that makes Chin such a rewarding poet to stick with. Whether it's the metaphysical bedroom politics of "Flesh/Wound," the displacing, normal-world-is-weirder quality of "Sold," or the tumultuous ranting laments of "Pisser," Chin finds beauty in vulgarity and parades it like a peacock. There's a lighter side of Chin, too, as he good-naturedly skewers ex-boyfriends' taste in mood-setting music, the dangers of romping around in the wild ("Nature makes me itchy"), or crass tour guides. But he's at his most powerful and most insightful apogee when he's at his most incendiary.

Speaking of incendiary, and for that matter, performance poetry, there's Verses That Hurt (St. Martin's Griffin, paper, $14.95), an anthology culled from the New York-based Poemfone dial-a-poem project. The project is quite inspired - a rotating group of poets host the line for a month at a time, coming up with a new poem a day - and the resultant anthology includes the pleasing likes of Allen Ginsberg, Hal Sirowitz, Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo, King Missile singer John S. Hall, and ex-Nuyorican Poets Cafe ringleader Bob Holman, as well as a cadre of assertive, powerful women with less name recognition but with compelling work nonetheless. In reviewing performance poetry anthologies, it's a copout to say some of it just doesn't work on the page. Well, of course not - in this case, it's meant for the phone, and in documentations such as this, it's nice to just have the script in hand. Still, I just have to ask: Might we lose the performance-poem-on-the-page clichés? Such as the ALL CAPITAL LETTERS THROUGHOUT LARGE SECTIONS OF THE POEM or the

dance of phrases

all across the page

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