Today's book of poetry:
Those Godawful Streets of Man: A Book Of Raw Wire In The City. Stephen Bett. Blazevox[Books]. Buffalo, New York. 2015.
Stephen Bett is damned sure that none of us is going to get out of this city unscathed. Those Godawful Streets of Man: A Book Of Raw Wire In The City is a little light when it comes to optimism, this book is a sneer from a mouth full of broken teeth.
Those Godawful Streets of Man (64th St.)
Then there was cousin
down the shop
Wife & baby daughter
at home for five
Twenty years later
him in NYC
And it's all
And people really
It's cruel as
all get out,
die for it
In Bett's city someone just played the joker against any chance of a winning hand. People smear themselves like bloodstains all over their attempts to find love.
Those that do find love discover just how flawed love can be. Those Godawful Streets of Man... is an illustrated fall from grace, one gut punch at a time.
Un/Wired, post-modernist Canadian Satire from the West Coast.
Byline: Subterranean Blue Poetry
Title of Book: Un/Wired
Author: Stephen Bett
Date of Publication: 2016
“Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goal posts of life.”
- from Dropkick Me Jesus by Bobby Bare
Un/Wired is the 18th book of poetry by celebrated Canadian Poet Stephen Bett, is a distinctly Vancouver, West Coast Canadian event, a Poet’s sid criminy. He has been widely published internationally and his personal papers are being archived at Simon Fraser University. He is a newly retired college professor and lives in British Columbia with his wife Katie. This is the third book of poetry This Writer has reviewed for Poet Bett, the first two being Sound Off: a book of jazz and Breathing Arizona.
This book is largely a satire on culture, a sendup of the common man, the unthinking, the state of the unconscious violence of the Western World that feeds into the monied corporate elite. As if the common man is sitting alone in the middle of a vacant lot wondering what just happenned. Un/Wired breaks new ground, trashing sacred cows with a wink and a promise.
The Poet’s roots are in the protest movement of the Hippies and the 1960’s with the Beat Poet’s coming to the fore. In the satire pieces it is as if he is wearing a mask, portraying some good ol’ boy in the shop, somewhat reminiscent of a more sophisticated Charlie Farquharson, a comedic character invented by Canadian Comedian/Writer/Actor Don Harron and portrayed on stage and in books.
“Corporate Verbs On Hold
“We are leveraging our core competencies
to meet our customers [sic] needs [sic!].
Can you ballpark that low-end little hanky-pank toy for me?
Yes, done, & I’ll stick it up yr third base.
Can you dialogue on this lefty-lucy screwed up itsy-bitsy nutball for me?
Surely can, I’ll break it down in threads & boot it over your discretely stained lover-lie logbook, little puss.
Could you dis ambiguate this foamy wet freakin’ frontal screen for me?
Yes, surely I’ll spank it right through your wide open tailgate, little beav’.
Will you facilitate this toxic little bo-jingle-jangle wrangled wrinkle for me?
Yo (& yo again) I’ll wax your face up stiff & botox your wee mouth shut.
Won’t you pul-ease ideate this knotty smokin’ cracker-jacked idee fixe for me?
No can do, I’ll just toss it in your thought-box to ripple rot, little bindipper . . . “
The Poet plays with language, sometimes inventing new words, tangles and repeats words, dangles words in escarpment, an event. Most of the poetry is short tight sentences, minimalist, turning the words in on themselves with an edge of humor, a sawed off shotgun delivery, a projection of the violent culture. A jazz beat. “a bar, a bar, a bar . . . a bar harbour”
“Brought to You By . . .
You use a product to wash out the grey
you get laid
You eat a slo-fry soul food
you get laid
You buy a so badass Euro-zone car
you get laid
Drink a snappy nafty micro brewski
you get laid
Swallow a lil’ lite blue pill
you get laid (repeatedly)
You watch co’mmercial after co’mmercial
you get laid (& laid)
The book has a fantastical blue, black and white cover with binary numbers. It is divided into 4 chapters, “Pre-Wired”, “Soft-Wired”, “Hard-Wired” and “Un-Wired”. Reading the book cover to cover, it starts slow and builds into a crescendo. Beginning with satire and then in the last chapter some love poetry that highlights the emotional violence of having had too many lovers. Themes include, his grown children, his wife, the Internet, gun violence, corporate America, jazz music, American politics and culture, world politics and more.
There are at least 3 poems that touch on gun violence in the United States, a send up of the not too smart politics/attitudes that perpetuates a war culture, “Some Forms of Insanity are Instantly Insaner than Others”, “A-muricondo.edu” and “April 12th Another Day in Cleveland”. In the United States a significant number of people are murdered by gun violence; in 2013, 33,169 died by gun violence (excluding death by legal intervention).
“Some Forms of Insanity are Instantly Insaner than Others
The NRA back in the dark
& dusky shadows again
after the latest massacre
in the U.S. of A Minus
(twenty 5 & 6 year olds):
Guns don’t kill people;
People kill people!
Here’s your upgraded semi-
automatic 100 round per
nano-second bumper sticker
for folksy woodsmen &
wigged-out 2nd Amendment
People with guns kill people,
And for all the young & wacked-out
gun totin’ American-o desperad-o
shooters out there let’s update
another lil’ “teacher certified”
Sartrified bumper sticker
for y’all . . .
Hell is – other people’s
I once had a conversation with a friends older brother when in high school that went something like this, I said, “Who needs to buy a gun, if they’re not hunters, hunting animals, who would need a gun?” He said, “People buy guns because they’re going to kill people . . come on” and he looked at me as if I was stupid. And I looked at him in my naive green teenage youth and thought he was insane and indeed if this was true the world was insane. “what did this mean?” Thirty-five years later with a better understanding of the cultural malaise and “the cult of ego”, I have a better understanding of why, but I still think the violence of the United States is insane.
A subtle, raw edge, jazz to jazz in the N.A. street. A fantastical work of post-modernist satire exposing the bones of the violent Western malaise in an exciting evolution of the Beat Poet tradition, Un/Wired by Stephen Bett.Read more »
In this, his 18th book of poetry, internationally acclaimed Canadian poet Stephen Bett is back to working the sassy, edgy margins of social satire. Divided into four sections, this book opens with humor; turns to soft-edge and then to hard-edge, wicked, hilarious satire of our vapid monoculture; and concludes with a section of poems bringing in the angst of it all.Read more »
Those Godawful Streets of Man by Stephen Bett reviewed in Pacific Rim Review of Books (10th Anniversary Edition)
Those Godawful Streets of Man by Stephen Bett
reviewed in Pacific Rim Review of Books (10th Anniversary Edition)
Reviewed by Richard Stevenson
I love what Stephen Bett is doing with language in his latest opus. I call it word jazz: poetry generated as much by sound association as image association; what Charles Olson called Projective Verse—proprioceptive poetry that lives in the moment and leaps playfully through word association nets not so much to create a thing, as to arrest the movement of the mind as it moves through microcosms and macrocosms of the cityscape, reflecting on and refracting what the poet finds.
Let me lay my cards out. I’ve been in a long love affair with English language haikai poetry (haiku, senryu, tanka, kyoka, zappai, renku); Kerouacian “pops” and Ginsberg’s “American Sentences”; trad to avant garde ‘ku; imagism; found poetry; realist and neosurrealist styles. So, after a bout of jazz poetry and performance in homage to Miles Davis, and performing cryptocritter/alien poems at kidlit conferences and local bandshell/gazebos (Frank Zappa for Tweens) with my jazz/rock troupe Sasquatch, I’ve been getting low and digging wit, irony, humour, epiphanies, bumper snicker spam-ku, scifaiku, for a good ten years or more.
Hence, I love the paradox of the so-called “wordless poem,” erasure, minimalism in all its modes, modern and post-modern. Bett’s his own man here. He’s absorbed the lessons of Donald Allen’s New American poets—the Objectivists, Beats, Black Mountain, New York and San Francisco schools, etc.; the Canadian Tish poets’ experiments with vernacular phonological phrasing in open form; the studious avoidance of the “burnished urn” Modernist reliance on myth, metaphor, and intellectual conceits, dense allusion, tight boxed containers.
Not that Bett’s poems aren’t marvelously allusive; the bric-à-brac of pop culture is all here: movies, cell phones, the Web, selfies, Tweets and all manner of squawks from the Interface. But there is nothing overtly confessional and the stitches and strophes are as comfortable and companionable as a Tetley Tea bag or
new silk pyramid of the latest craft tea. The allusions are to pop culture events: post-modern texts, not obscure texts. The reader is invited in—to squalid coldwater flats of yesteryear newly converted for the addicted and down-and-out of the lower east side of Vancouver, with sparking bare wires spitting between poles, maybe—but, no matter: the urban experience touches everyone and the reader will supply his or her own meta-narratives where the minimalist directive of the poet’s overarching narrative allows.
This is minimalism for readers who like their poems fat: rich, but sans impasto or ornament. A book of raw wire in the city: edgy, tense, sharp, angular, dangerous— in the electrified, computerized grids of cityscape we inhabit, and in the boxes we place each other in and peer out from; pole to pole down the dirty low-rent boulevard, in back alleys, out to suburbia, as we attempt to touch through wires and wireless interfaces, en face, live and in person in an age of celebrity cast-off culture and relationships.
At the heart of the book and appearing late in the accumulating narrative—the overall alienation we 21st-century zombie citizens feel facing globalization and its feral children—is the story of a dissolving relationship, the man too earnest and accepting; the woman raging and fading into madness. But nothing is cloying or mawkish or sentimental, or even confessional; instead we shift easily from a sort of Special Victims Unit episode of macro family skeleton news:
Then there was cousin
down the shop for smokes
Wife and baby daughter
at home for five
Read more »
READ THE WHOLE REVIEW in the Pacific Rim Review of Books (10th Anniversary Edition)
“This is an edgy, raw, harsh, gritty book about the contemporary cityscape—its block buildings; its loose, naked, spitting live wires; its plugged-in populace. A place where Borderliners, leeches, zombies, and drains fight it out over a man and a woman locked in a death grip.”