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The Cry at Zero

by Andrew Joron
Counterpath Press, Denver, CO, 2007
120 pp. Paper, $14.95
ISBN: 978-1933996-02-8.

Reviewed by Michael R. (Mike) Mosher
Saginaw Valley State University


In a 2007 interview in the magazine Rain Taxi, Andrew Joron admitted this book of selected prose "has no form", and that the "taxonomic disorder of the pieces makes the book resemble a surrealist collage more than a ‘consciously architectured’ edifice". This reader finds less formlessness in it than an intuitive gathering of work that crosses genres, yet is linked by the author’s sensibility, passions and interests.

Though Andrew Joron has published poetry, literary criticism, and translation, this reviewer knew him from an anthology titled Terminal Velocities. That 1993 publication was the final issue of Velocities: a Journal of Speculative Poetry that he edited from 1982 to 1988. Its centerpiece was a long poem "The Sunday Gift" by Adam Cornford, and having previously read Animations (City Lights, 1988), I was open to more of that Anglo-San Franciscan poet and poetics educator. Speculative and science fiction poetry seems to be a rara avis; besides that volume, I know only of Uncommon Places: Poems on the Fantastic, edited by Judith Kerman and Don Riggs (Mayapple Press, 2000).

The first essay in The Cry at Zero is "The Emergency," an angry response in late 2001 to the drums of war across America after the attack on September 11. He calls for a poetry of "self-organized criticality" in defense of language’s integrity, as war rushes to distort it. And poetic language, in its relation to the world, can be at best little more than "a ghost condensate." Thoughtful essays follow on poets Philip Lamantia, Mary Margaret Sloan, and San Francisco decadent and clubman George Sterling. Though critical of the Language poets, Joron praises Clark Coolidge, whom many Languagistas (like Ron Silliman) certainly count as their own. The dark, sweet essays are separated——like white filling in an Oreo cookie——with Joron’s prose poems, some brief and collage-like.

In an essay "Terror Conduction", Joron links Robert Duncan’s attentiveness to poetry and war, Georges Bataille’s neo-Sadeian pursuits, and political philosopher Miguel DeLanda. The "Zero" in the title does not refer to Ground Zero, the site of the collapsed World Trade Center on lower Manhattan island, but the impetus for Lamantia’s Neo-Surrealism, and Joron affirmed to Rain Taxi’s interviewer "Zero is the sign of Utopia." Andrew Joron proudly claims this book’s diffuseness as analogous to the decentralized spontaneity of the Zapatista movement in Mexico, and the Direct Action Network in anti-globalization demonstrations. Yet in the invasions and repressions that followed after 9/11, these promising social movements and innovative tendencies have been eclipsed. Andrew Joron endeavors, grasping for arguments and inclinations in various cultural corners, to craft a poetics for these times. And, however provisional, rarefied (or even momentarily gaseous), it’s a poetics that doesn’t exclude politics.



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