A review of

The Joyous Age

by Christopher Nealon

Central question: If language does nothing useful, or nothing special, what’s a radical poet to do?
Format: 70 pp., paperback; Price: $13.00; Publisher: Black Square; Book designer: Quemadura; Device used instead of a title for the 32 short poems which make up “Concept and Category”: A slightly off-center black star; All six lines from one especially telling, and in fact representative, section of “Concept and Category”: “This is the part judged for usefulness//This is the part judged for beauty// This is a deposit on the triumph of the meek// This is the scoreboard overrun with vines// This is ‘the oldest means of Enlightenment’// Here kitty kitty”

The playgrounds and basements of Brooklyn and Berkeley teem with neo-avant-something poets who smash prose sense to bits while preserving syntax, and who claim that the resulting jumbles reveal a radical critique of life, the universe, or old tennis shoes. Nealon’s bracing and bitter debut both enters and mocks the tradition of kaleidoscopic, difficult poetry as grand social critique, and makes most new work in that mode sound sloppy or bland by contrast.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Stephen Burt

Stephen Burt is a Reform Democrat. He believes in the Television Personalities and in the Minnesota Lynx, and he teaches at Macalester College in Saint Paul. (His books are Popular Music, a collection of poems, and Randall Jarrell and His Age.)

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