[10.6.06] [Andrew Gallix]
3:AM REVIEW: TRAVIS JEPPESEN'S POEMS I WROTE WHILE WATCHING TV
"While the public has revelled in Dan Brown, it's business as usual for a distinct group of writers and much of that buoyancy can be put down to Jeppesen, who shakes his head at the publishing world that has been slow to embrace him. Every generation needs its own voice, not just posthumous totems of dead writers they are reminded can never be surpassed, and Jeppesen embodies his. To call them the Offbeat Generation may be a bit convenient, but the scale of the work is certainly impressive and Poems I Wrote While Watching TV is one of the best examples," writes Susan Tomaselli.
Kicking off his Little House on the Bowery series in 2003, Dennis Cooper talked of the current state publishing saying "the general literary climate in the United States today is not a friendly one to readers and writers who seek in fiction an experience of a unique and startling nature." There's no one more startling and unique than Travis Jeppesen and Victims, Jeppesen's debut novel that was part of the Bowery series, garnered the highest praise, not least from Cooper himself who said it was "the most exciting first novel I've read in a decade or more."
That excitement continues. The blurb for Poems I Wrote While Watching TV calls it "a ruthlessly implosive meditation on the death of language in a media-saturated world." Like Thomas Jerome Newton, the character played by David Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth, Jeppesen, "a rowdy youth for sale," crash lands into culture and launches a full-on assault on television and its "limited vocabulary" -- "every word is an elaborate machine" in poems that give you no time to acclimatise to the surroundings. This collection goes at a headlong, terrifying speed, aiming for "those forces hiding behind the screen" and the "new languages for a post-articulate age." Jeppesen is onto the human distractions that were Bowie's demise, and rubs our noses in something quite gruesome:
"I see through every televised illusion
Word spacing corresponds to handwriting
Between the lines
Of some producer's coke binge"
An American writer living in Prague, Jeppesen writes: "All of America looks / The same I realize from the / Distance of two years and / A foreign screen." Channel-hopping, Jeppesen takes it all in: the soaps, the dramas, the teleshopping, Czech country music, "a cook shows us how they cook potatoes in another country," Don Johnson, Frosty the Snowman, "a not-so-famous detective interrupts with a commercial of his own," Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, "So much / Passion in those files, the poison in our archive /Our history of lightness."
"Give in to pure impulse like it's the only thing that matters. That's / a lesson I attempted to teach myself, when I was an artist. Not this / new lesson, of enclosed spaces." Jeppesen is so kinetic that watching him contain himself is exhilarating, and when he explodes it is unsettling and brilliantly demented: "Suffix kindly enervate the verb's relapse into monkey shadow / snortquakes -- my forever gagged holy orthodox snails -- the fine thin / worms wither away, deteriorated by the fuzz of trance, inoperative / beyond the vibration."
Jeppesen's collection, which includes "TV Haiku" and is accompanied by stills painted by Jeremiah Palecek, is not so much an expression of how television has lost its soul as a force against society itself. With Germaine Greer appearing on Big Brother, reasoning these days can only be described as lax, and we only have ourselves to blame: we accept television, "we want the medium to consume us."
That anarchic literary spirit that Dennis Cooper talked of, "a venue of originality, boldness, and adventure," is alive and well, albeit online. While the public has revelled in Dan Brown, it's business as usual for a distinct group of writers and much of that buoyancy can be put down to Jeppesen, who shakes his head at the publishing world that has been slow to embrace him. Every generation needs its own voice, not just posthumous totems of dead writers they are reminded can never be surpassed, and Jeppesen embodies his. To call them the Offbeat Generation may be a bit convenient, but the scale of the work is certainly impressive and Poems I Wrote While Watching TV is one of the best examples.
"Language is a whore," writes Jeppesen, and he makes a fine pimp. Between Max Headroom and Allen Ginsberg, Jeppesen is a roiling combination of rage, tenderness, horniness, alienation and hurt and he spits out jarring phrases that read almost as cut-up and delivers them with the immediacy of reportage from a distant war zone: "blow up hermaphrodite android sparkler," "New Year sex attack pollinated airfields," "skull busters on the morfer / down to nula nula hotdance," "nihilism nose ring," "eat logic hot dog bugger." These are riffs that beg to be read aloud.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Susan Tomaselli lives in Ireland, and edits the inimitable dogmatika.