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152 the minnesota review Skinny Eighth Avenue by Stephen Paul Miller. New York: Domestic Press, 1990. pp. 64. The author of several plays produced on New York City's Lower East Side, and of four poetry chapbooks published as issues of the journal New Observations, Stephen Paul Miller has also been active as a visual artist and magazine editor over the past decade. Skinny Eighth Avenue, Miller's first full-length poetry collection, should earn a considerably wider audience for a vigorously experimental and memorably comic writer whose poetic project is not reducible to one or two aims. In fact, the heterogeneity within and among the poems— influenced in different ways by the work of such artists as Wallace Stevens, John Cage, John Ashbery, Jasper Johns, and David Shapiro—creates fascinating stumbling blocks for the reader. As he puts it in "Cutty," he is interested in "the way Ufe doesn't have any meaning but the sense of how it does..." For Miller, this "sense" is always ripe for interruption and displacement by other "senses." Refusing the consolation of thematic and stylistic unity and of traditional poetic decorum, MiUer's poems—especiaUy long ones Uke "Lies through Love" and "That Man Who Ground Moths into Film"—thrive on bits of abstract thought, a seemingly straight or funky discussion of the aims of poetry or representation in general, personal and historical narrative, pop culture, rant, surreal "events," and naive (or pseudo-naive) effusions that interrupt each other: "What could be better than substitution—purging through a colored eraser?/When things get tough the tough endure slowly, we put circulation in the ever-shrinking pre-inscribed area or heap water upon limitations," as Miller puts it in "Keeping Away from School." One way Miller keeps his reader away from the staid "school" of poems that can be mastered by conventional explication is to whip up a stew of historical and fictional (often, pop cultural) characters from different periods who travel backwards and forwards in time. In "Ralph Kramden Emerson Tonight," for instance, directly after Allen Ginsburg is reported to have asked Miller to annotate the unfamiUar reference to Kramden in the poem itself—a wild double- jointing of logic in itself—Kramden's narration of a dream to Norton makes a happy connection out of the coincidence: He somehow seems to be two people, One with the middle name of "Waldo," God forbid, And one who is fat but speedy And somehow driving a bus to Bensonhurst. This later "Ralph" has dropped The Emerson from Ralph Kramden Emerson Upon landing a starring role In a hit TV series of the 1950's. In the dream, the existence of television In the 1830's has been mysteriously forgotten So Ralph has a tremendous advantage Over all the other supposed pioneers. However, at the height of Kramden's success, in 1956, Allen Ginsburg's "Howl" comes out. Although it was still censored in America, The great actor manages to smuggle a copy out of England. "Ralph Kramden" is immeasurably moved by the work And suddenly feels the apparently irrational inner need to Leave his hit show, Travel south, and try to find his real self. "I'm out of here," Ralph says to himself, and then awakes to the sight of Norton, with a towel around his waist, stepping out of the shower. Thank God it has all been a dream and it is 1837 again. Reviews 153 The transmigratory flight of what Americanist Quentin Anderson called the "imperial self" from Emerson, to the eternal optimist and self-promoter "Ralph Kramden," abruptly snuffed out by Jackie Gleason's quirky decision to flee his singular success, to the iconoclast Ginsberg—by implication, Whitman serves as a conduit from Emerson to Ginsburg—wackily parodies and unhinges the rugged American individualist stance by showing how it is constituted as the repetition of a prior gesture. The unhinging, however, never supplants the poet's affection for the object of his parody. The questioning of selfs primacy is treated differently in "Bearing," a poem whose poignant lyricism is not diminished by a preponderance of abstract language. Beginning with the shocking possibility that "maybe everything you ever thought about Ufe...


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