A Voice Poetry Roundup

From half-baked utopias to diabetic bitches

Swensen teaches at the fabled Iowa Writers Workshop, which in the '90s began to shed its image as ground zero for cookie-cutter workshop verse. The results have been mixed, and readers can be confident that whenever they hear work described as "combining language and lyric," it's usually shorthand for the application of avant-garde poetry techniques to emotional and perceptual platitudes. An antidote? Maybe one of the prefaces to Chelsey Minnis's Bad Bad (Fence): "Someone once thought that a poem should be more than an elaborate 'fuck you,' but I did not think it." Other recent "bad"—in a good way—girl/boy poetries include the most accomplished book (if superlatives are appropriate for such intentionally offensive work) produced to date by the Flarf group, Sharon Mesmer's Annoying Diabetic Bitch (Combo), as well as the messy body politics of Garrett Caples's Complications (Meritage) and Dennis Cooper's limited-edition The Weaklings, from the newly inaugurated Fanzine Press. Cooper's book distills into dark verse crystals the obsessions with eroticism and death that saturate his more widely read novels.

The voice of Lewis and Clark's slave: poet Frank X Walker
Kevin Flores
The voice of Lewis and Clark's slave: poet Frank X Walker

Reversing Richey's mother-to-son correspondence, the tour de force "Son2Mother" concludes Kevin Powell's No Sleep Till Brooklyn: New and Selected Poems (Soft Skull). Poets raised on the spoken-word scene are increasingly concerned with finding a way to translate their words to the page, and Powell is another successful example, following in the footsteps of Tracie Morris, Suheir Hammad, and many more. It's difficult to overestimate the contributions that spoken word and hip-hop have made to poetry as an art form, however much they've yet to be recognized in the official histories or anthologies—or to leave a large mark with individual books. But poetry is spacious enough to include Ashbery, Bracho, and Lil' Wayne, too.

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