Monday, November 09, 2015

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: Outside and Subterranean Poetry

Barbaric, Vast & Wild
A Gathering of Outside & Subterranean Poetry from Origins to Present
Edited with commentaries by Jerome Rothenberg and John Bloomberg-Rissman
Black Widow Press, 2015

Everyone who styles themselves an outsider should be required to buy this book.  It’d rocket up the bestseller list and surely we would become, along with our creations, more interesting and more tolerant, dashing and emboldened and enriched.  The books I love most are those that grant me entrance to an entire world; this is such a book.  Not since M.A. Caws’ Surrealist Painters and Poets have I found an anthology that so deserved to be called a treasure house.

‘Anthologize’ is a dull word for Rothenberg’s daring feats of inclusion, a heroic attempt to somehow make a book of all that has been left out.  Here are texts from the inside of pyramids, excerpts of Zen tales, Gnostic gospels, Pali scriptures and Hildegard of Bingen’s private language.  What better way to read a book than in a continuous state of surprise!  I did not expect: Nostradamus, Mayan spells, a brilliant translation of Dante, Nietzsche’s last mad letters, Marina Sabina, Robert Walser’s microscripts.  Here is much that is strange, horny, godmad, crazed, obscure, direct.  Canonized outsiders are present: Blake, Dickinson, Rimbaud, Genet, but they are outnumbered by the excluded, by texts from the schizophrenic and psychotic, the paralyzed or deaf, from those locked in, locked up and locked out.

For those of us with non-normative bodies and minds, this book is crucial.  It is a source of solace and encouragement, as well as a reminder of how much brilliance comes from way, way outside the margins.  With any luck it may also prove to be an antidote and tonic for a time when artists and writers seem to be in a hurry to produce sensible, reasonable, marketable commodities.

Only the great Rothenberg would have known or dared to create such an anthology.  Arguing for it is like arguing for the dictionary: a book as delightful as it is necessary.    

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