book review by Tim Staley
At high noon my wife smashed a fly against the living room window with this book in the middle of our first pandemic summer. The room erupted into puppy yelp, child screech, fly-wail and the desert sun breaching the ceiling, grabbing us by the ankles, holding us upside-down to drain us into our shadows. All this, especially the fly-wail, fits flawlessly with this book about fly swatting, language, number theory, action and surrender.
Hugo Ball was a German author, poet, and essentially the founder of the Dada movement in European art in Zürich in 1916—maybe you already knew that. Maybe you learned that from some stuffy-teacher-induced-research-based-half-cocked-noviate-solo-tour. Maybe you visited some cold websites in search of Hugo Ball. Did you ever figure out why nonsense is such an enduring quality of art?
Emerge Lane Chasek, from behind the purple beaded curtain, to introduce us to Dada and Ball—the way a friend might—in his new book: Hugo Ball and the Fate of the Universe: Adventures in Sound Poetry (Jokes Review, 2020). Chasek is anything but a stuffy teacher. He’s drunk—but it’s an airy-lover-don’t-mind-inviting-“My Back Pages”-kind-of-buzz necessary for this type of Hero’s Journey where the Hero seems to be speaking the most rarefied strain of white gibberish ever.
Chasek has found himself dangling from his own family tree like a crucifix on a dandelion chain wondering how to handle what he’s hearing on Democracy Now. Hugo Ball had the same problem. Like one veined bubble sharing a townhouse membrane with another in the vesper service of language’s aftermath: Chasek–through Ball’s sound poetry—connects us with the madness of the past.
The way this hitchhiker’s guide of sound poetry surveys post-language allows us to make discoveries right along with the author. The tone is serious insanity, congenial nonsense. For example, there’s a rando paragraph on page 76 that starts like this, “My poem would involve chinchillas. Lots and lots of chinchillas, since I really like chinchillas. And thousands of keyboards hooked up to thousands of main frames, all dedicated to storing the corpse that will be my magnum opus. I’d caffeinate those chinchillas and make them immortal if I could.” Will the chinchillas help our Hero acquire the superpower of not making sense?
Sound poetry is a kiss in the face of Shakespeare. Sound poetry is what happens when language stops feeling pain. There is scat singing and math and laughs in this book. There are childhood friends, new friends, and a few sound poems. American Puritanical Christianity™ is here too, “Sucking out all the poetic verve Christianity used to have. After all, there’s an entire book in the Old Testament that’s an erotic poem. Never forget that.” Had you forgotten that? I sure had.
By the end, Chasek has written his own sound poem; in an interview, he said writing it, “felt like a creative temper tantrum—uncontrollable, but oddly liberating.” Through the course of the book, he shares his process of hamstringing language; I felt comforted by his tremendously mellow and jovial tone. Maybe this book will inspire you to write your own sound poem. Logic is all there is to lose.
About the author
Besides writing, LANE CHASEK enjoys watching 90s horror movies and cooking plant-based Sichuan recipes.