Tuesday, July 05, 2005

5 Years of Clean Hair

I've been meaning for weeks now to put up something about the 5th-anniversary issue of SHAMPOO, and have finally decided to overcome the twin bugbears of laziness and fear of self-promotion.

Mostly because SHAMPOO deserves the attention. It's hard to believe it's been around for five years--in the world of literary journals (especially online ones), that makes it something approaching an institution--but at the same time it feels like it's always been there, cheerfully welcoming me to the big world of poetry.

That sense of welcome is, I think, what's distinctive about SHAMPOO: a kind of unabashed enthusiasm for new, good poems, but with a laid-back openness that doesn't determine in advance where those poems are going to come from or what they'll look like. SHAMPOO 1, posted in May 2000, contains the work of only one poet, William Corbett, whose name I would have known at that point (and whose presence is a nod to the journal's Boston roots); people like Timothy Liu and D.A. Powell don't start appearing until issues 4 and 6, respectively. It's a nod to how influential SHAMPOO's become that the latest issue has a good lineup of heavy hitters (like Coolidge, Silliman, Bernstein, and Scalapino), but those are only four of a throng of 60-odd contributors, most of whom I'm reading for the first time here.

But that isn't to say SHAMPOO doesn't have an aesthetic. I hope no one thinks it's condescending--or aggrandizing--if I say it feels like a Blakean blend of innocence and experience: unsentimental reminiscences, love poems that know they ought to know better, poems where the "I" finds itself there and tries to find its way out again. Certainly these are traits of editor Del Ray Cross's own work. But it's no accident that some of SHAMPOO's most prolific contributors have been folks like Jim Behrle, whose witty self-consciousness
language isn’t poetry

yet / must be the same dress size

audience is the new orgasm
doesn't keep him from getting in your face:
go on, waive your right to counsel

*I’ve* come to chew on *you*
Or Michael Farrell, whose artifices of repetition can turn unexpectedly theraputic:
another weird sunny day at the laundry
lose weight instruct the notices
go next door for cigarettes jelly and change
if theyd only feel the need for jelly we could change
Or Cassie Lewis, whose searing venture into autobiography is both a remarkable depature from her earlier work, and an extension of its calm, unsparing gaze:
After my father left, there was no longer simple day. There were boys and girls. There
were teachers. There were mothers. Relatedness and its opposite, as life developed

I would see lines between trees, like power lines, to feel optimistic.
The embrace of dailiness, the risking of sentimentality, the lacing of autobiography with irony: these might be seen as New York School qualities, and in a way SHAMPOO, like so much other contemporary work, could be seen as part of the long project of processing and purging the NYS legacy in American writing. But that's really far too limiting a way to look at what it's doing. The best work in SHAMPOO is doing something much more synthetic--or maybe something much more basic, getting down to the simplest forms of language we use and showing how rich and strange they are, rather than focusing attention on a brilliant surface. That's what Del means by "fun":
this weekend
I had
a lot of fun

I am also
enjoying myself

this weekend
I will have
so much fun


Cassie said...

Thanks Tim for the encouragement
regarding "Dancing Lessons".

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