There’s an extraordinary excitement coursing through these new poems by Mark Scroggins. Electric with a kind of headlong internal enjambment & melodically stuttering parataxis (modernist spasms of ecstasy run face-first into moral entropy), they vibrate at a pitch where desire topples into the forbidden, the decayed, and the just plain nasty.
Blind mouths pastoral suck bukkake
viscous splatter ablumenoid linseed fever
underpainted egg-white glazing ochre umber
common time waltz three-step coda
the smeared mayonnaise beaten yolk
do I look strange kidnapped
precipitous tropic rushed silent end.
This is the only poem I know of to make such cunning use of the perverse practice of bukkake. Or any use, for that matter. Reader, do not dwell on it. Or, if you must, reflect on the term’s circulation vis-à-vis Facebook’s recent public offering. As the narrator of the classic noir, Naked City, entones at the end of the film: “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.”
Torture Garden takes its unsavory name from a book of the same title I’m not likely ever to read, Octave Mirabeau’s kinky, savage satire on fin de siècle ethics. Formally, though, the poems take their cue from Zukofsky’s magnificent 80 Flowers – using 7 lines per poem rather than 8. But they're more than a gesture of homage from LZ's biographer; these poems stand wildly and entirely on their own as late modernist vignettes of metropolitan shock, snarling with polyglot street-smarts.
But if the profane gets plenty of bandwidth, the sacred is not neglected either, especially in a small run of poems dedicated to Michael Heller, Norman Finkelstein, Joe Donahue, and Peter O’Leary, each of whom works in the vein of a gnostic cum sacramental poetics. This is “Cairo Chop Shop,” for Heller:
Celebrated the birdsong and updates
of the letter made free
textured cloth sewn-in weight lead
brass golden yod cubits
and myriads poised to rise gold-webbed
damask between Jerusalem and sever
Athens unshielded poised to rise.
Intricately woven and tensile with thick layerings, this poem nevertheless almost floats off the page. “Jersualem and sever/Athens unshielded” is an exquisite syntactical stroke that out-Oppens Oppen.
The “procedure” in Torture Garden involves mashing up the eight million; the book is lustrous with quotation and allusion, most of which are lost on me, I confess, though I was amused to find a poem using A.E. VanVogt’s classic SF novel about superhuman mutants, Slan, for its title. None of this feels forced or contrived – there’s a powerfully cohesive music in these truculent rhythms and oblique combinations. Put another way, it’s a display of brute force from end to end, all sheer velocity and collision, a strange new beauty emerging from the rejection of beauty, a poetics in which “thought experiment keeps the real.” I love these poems – they’re like fragments torn from the margins of Benjamin’s Arcades Projects, scenes from violent media landscape that are swarming yet oddly serene. Brimming with surprise and speed, and teeming with ghosts and weird echoes, they expand the dark horizons of language; baleful clouds racing above a city’s shadows.
I will tell it like
it is simple words training
the mind’s eye on water
sand sunlight the nipple astir
under cotton voyeur dancing webcam
hard northeast wind and premonitory
hints of snow zippers latex.