Fractured by Danny Baker (Punk Hostage Press, 2012) $12.95, ISBN 978-0-9851293-0-9
The poète maudit is a species of poet that lives on the fringes of society, on purpose, in the hopes of learning from its excesses an education of sorts. The French started this Office of Poetics (absolutement!) by adding exemplary models, like Verlaine and Rimbaud, the likes of which we are still trying to replicate. In the U.S., maybe the closest thing we have are the two Jims: Jim Morrison of The Doors and Jim Carroll, and Ginsberg, Bukowski, Boroughs, many of the Beats.
The speakers in Danny Baker's Fractured (Punk Hostage Press, 2012) are not afraid of rock-bottom; indeed, they gather gravitas as Baker slips into the shoes of "a runaway just taking a break/ from dark of Hollywood streets/ 14 years of wide aging eyes" in "Another Lesson Learned" or a spaced-out electrician postulating about "a circuit breaker on acid/on a perpetual loop/sequentially tripping out" in "Electrical Tape" or a denizen of Purgatory, "neck-deep in the valley of no return," that hears "herd[s] of feral humans splashing" and sees the horizon blotted by "a Haitian necktie" gurgling "flames in the distance" in "Seeking What's Lost Where I Fear No Evil".
Indeed, Baker's range is ample; the title of Baker's chapbook alludes to the number of personas the poet summons in this debut chapbook; maybe, it simply refers to the fact that despite our best efforts, it all goes to shit. In other words, entropy is a bitch. Fractured gives great slivers of style and dexterity, so naturally standout "maudit" poems abound. Let's not forget Baker's canvas is downtown Los Angeles & Hollywood, CA.: the Bootcamp for Vagrants and vampire Times Square of the world, respectively. "Skid Row L.A.," probably the most representative of Baker's in the "maudit" style, is a gorgeous verbal edifice dedicated to capturing how very throw-away the truly-destitute really are, and Baker is able to mural a variegated tableau that wends in and out of the territory of an epistle of misery in which people are so broken they almost hope to fail ("hoping to fail").
But, truth be told, "Fractured," didn't entirely hold my attention. To be sure, there is much to like in this chapbook, but the work's sense of friction, or action, gets bogged down in an aperture of singular taste In "A Matter of Price" the tone is so thick with the "maudit" style that the poem becomes predictable, pedestrian. Everyone has their price, the poem preaches, it's all, "A Matter of Price," and that's where Baker loses me: in his veer towards an overt didacticism, "don't seek chivalry in/hard-ons of he of/ smarmy Cheshire tooth/ none will be found," or "don't search for door/into souls sold cheap/they open to brick/ which often crumbles/before your eyes". In "A Matter of Price," these stanzas sag the intent displayed by other tightly wound lines like, "low rent style for low rent types/ in low rent neighborhoods getting pricier".
But, it's in poems where Baker strays from the confines of the "accursed" style that his poems open up like expensive succulents. For example, in "Electrical Tape" the speaker imagines that "everything's gone on strike/ worry not/ a bit of magic tape will/ do a trick," but makes a light jump to electric tape being enough to suture synapses in "neurotransmitters/jump synapses or simply/ transmit elsewhere/ if signaling at all anymore." It would be interesting to see where Baker could take the premise behind, "Electrical Tape," because as I neared the end of the poem I found myself wanting to hear more in that register; I wanted the poem to continue because the idea behind the poem was so enticing, full of discursive opportunities.
"What I Do" is a slippery treatise on the "work" that writers do; it also serves as an ars poetica of sorts. I just really enjoyed the length of Baker's lines in this piece. The piece is dynamic and playful, while at the same time sonorous and crafty, "infinite indications indicate infinite solutions/solving nothing worth effort but it's what I do." There are several lines in this piece that not only make great music, but also push the harsh charge words can have when put into a deliberate fashion. Likewise, "Oneloa" is a sparse fiddle of Pacific juxtapositions about a beach on Maui's south side. The speaker is "in Pele's embrace," and yet "cotton candy sand/soft cool kisses flow" and they find themselves in front of "Kanaloa's garden blue/gazing far/yet seeing so little/ mass incalculable." The physical beauty of the topography of Oneloa forces the speaker to contend with the land's vigor, "ebb and flow/tide's rapture," and Kanaloa's reputation as the Squid God of mischief and magic. The poem is a tiny gem of an engine, and amazingly well built; it showcases Baker's abilities as an architect of thought and journeyman of emotive landscapes.
Danny Baker's chapbook, Fractured, is a sojourn through the many dominions of the poète maudit, or accursed poet. This isn't necessarily new territory, and Danny Baker is no logos cosmonaut, but there are some standout poems in "Fractured," which only bodes well for Baker, and Punk Hostage Press. Punk Hostage Press is small, but it's run by A. Razor and Iris Berry, apostles in the Angeleno poetry scene. Moreover, the chapbook proves that print publication in the U.S. is actually pretty hale. The manufacturers of e-book readers, the makers of popular readers like the Nook, will have you believe that the book is on its last leg and fast-tracked towards obsolescence.
But, according to Bowker, the company that issues International Standard Book Numbers, "Output of new titles and editions increased from 302,410 in 2009 to a projected 316,480 in 2010." What the manufacturers of e-book readers don't want you to know is that there is a small Renaissance taking place among non-traditional publishers. What the manufacturers of e-book readers don't want you to know is that the price of self-publishing books has gone down dramatically, and this has given rise to many new publishers like Punk Hostage Press and many collections of poetry like "Fractured" by Danny Baker.
(cover illustration by Billy Burgos)
A Spanglish blog dedicated to the works, ruminations, and mongrel pyrotechnics of Yago S. Cura, an Argentine-American poet, translator, publisher & futbol cretin. Yago publishes Hinchas de Poesia, an online literary journal, & is the sole proprietor of Hinchas Press.