Seth Abramson on Percussion Grenade

by on Jul.20, 2012

And here’s another review link. Seth Abramson writes very insightfully and explosively about Joyelle’s Percussion Grenade.


Percussion Grenade, Joyelle McSweeney (Action Books, 2012). From its opening importuning–“The pieces in this volume were written for performance and should be read aloud–a-LOUD!”–the reader of Percussion Grenade is prepared for some kind of single-stage explosive anything. What arrives, instead, is a rocket-propelled everything. This is a big book: materially, conceptually, thematically (if we find theme in concept), and in all its fully-realized, near-fully-realized, and half-abortive ambitions (if we find ambition in rubbed-raw courage). What begins in a gesture toward the permissive forms of received tradition (McSweeney begins with a query: “Is it ok…”) soon becomes a neo-Whitmanesque self-admonition (“I loaf and invite myself to lock and load”). And it’s this latter prescription that Percussion Grenade spectacularly fills; McSweeney’s often breathless, always ecstatic war-cries (up to barbaric yawps) veer wildly toward the edge of sanity and then Thelma-&-Louise it past that edge into a combustive abyssal vacuum. Which is, finally, where Percussion Grenade lives: within a fiery con-fusion of unsafe, unpretty soul-grindings that at once occupy the liminal spaces before, within, and after an explosive crash. One would call this fearless poetry if doing so would not wrongly insinuate that these poems in any sense acknowledge fear. This may be the first poetry collection this critic has encountered that beggars description; it is to be experienced, to be heard, to be felt hot on the cheek–not spoken of quietly in the indoor spaces of polite company and (self-)serious literary criticism. Highly recommended. [Excerpt: eight pages from Percussion Grenade (click “read it now” at link)].

Abramson also makes some interesting arguments about where we’re at in American poetry. For example:

The question, then, is where can we find tomorrow’s poems today? Where do we see a poetics (not a mere aesthetic) so entirely unrecognizable–yet so clearly studied and historically-minded–that it turns our attention from a sea of complacent goodness to restless, riotous, engorged breakers whose Great energies properly roar? While there will always be (and always must be) time and space made for the masterful classical lyric-narrative, more and more it seems that a sizable segment of the most innovative work circulating today is alive to the generative possibilities of an aesthetic badness, a refutation of even the well-honed elliptical craft of our time.

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