The Urinals of Hell by Joe Pachinko.
Underground writing is a mixed bag; some of it striking, much of it bad. All that can be said for it is that it's across-the-board better than the National Book Award winners.
I have a closet filled with books, zeens, and manuscripts which people have sent me. I'll never read all of it-- it would take years. (The underground revolution awaits in that stack.) Yesterday I stuck my hand in and chose a book, curious about what I'd come up with. The book was Pachinko's, published by a tiny outfit in Oakland, California called Superstition Street Press.
At first glance the poems in the volume didn't appear unusually great-- but compared to those in the bloodless Jean Valentine National Book Award winner, they're masterpieces: "The 'My Childhood Was Worse than Your Childhood' Award for Poetry, Runner-Up 1999"; "Impossible Cheeseburger Pie"; "I Have a Thousand Mouths and I Must Scream"; "Biohazard Saturday Night"; "Frat Boy Nation"; "Have You Ever Been Hit by an Airbag?"; "The Shrunken Head"-- poetry that's readable, tough, cynical, intelligent, of today, with an attitude, and most important: ALIVE.
What does it say about our official lit culture that this obscure street poet Pachinko in Oakland is, say, forty times better a writer than Jean Valentine, the constant award winner? That there are likely hundreds of poets in America better than Valentine, more deserving (and needy) of prize money and recognition? Can we say that the National Book Foundation is a criminal organization? A fraud? I'd say so.
When I can I'll put a couple of Pachinko's shorter tomes up on this blog. Most are fairly long. I found one short poem that, uncannily, seems to be commenting on Ms. Valentine's work; on academic/institutional poetry in general.
by Joe Pachinko
on the twilight steep hill
with a tall dead gray tree
the wind blowing leaves
across the concrete.
"You want a poem," I said,
"There's your god damn poem."