Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Just Reviewed “The New Arcana” at SBR (Experimental Poetry)

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Folks, THE NEW ARCANA by John Amen and Daniel Y. Harris is an extremely unusual book.  Experimental in nature and eclectic in the extreme, this was a book that grew on me after many, many re-reads.

This isn’t your father’s book of poetry.

Instead, this is a book full of postmodern sentiment, faux journalism and mock academic writing, photographs of made-up people, and even fake autobiographies mixed in with some excellent poetry of the most trenchant sort.  The sly and subtle wit these two writers have come up with takes a while to understand, but once it finally manifests (or once my brain fully processed it, whichever), it’s more than worth the price of admission.

Some pages are far more understandable than others (as I said in my review at SBR, I absolutely didn’t understand the four lines on p. 99), but there’s enough here to please just about any poetry lover if he or she just gives the book a chance.  And if the poetry lover enjoys postmodern sentiment, for that matter, as without an appreciation for postmodernism, this book is likely to fly right over the poetry lover’s head.

Look.  This is a book I agonized about reviewing, mostly because it is so very different and is the farthest thing from an easy read that I can possibly imagine — and partly because it took me a while to appreciate the golden nuggets floating amidst a veritable ocean of words.

My belief is that THE NEW ARCANA is akin to a jazz improvisation that starts out as tonal, quickly becomes atonal, then does something unprecedented that somehow melds the two yet transcends the two at the same time.

Seriously.  Go read my review.  Then take a gander at THE NEW ARCANA.  Read it several times.  Try not to pre-judge it.

Then figure out whether it’s a really good book based off an unusual interpolation of forms, or just an odd mix that doesn’t quite hit the mark.  Because while Ornette Coleman and the “free jazz” movement of the 1960s can be really interesting to listen to — especially for lovers of music history and theory — it’s not always an easy experience.

Besides, not every instance of jazz improvisation works for everyone, because humans simply aren’t wired that way.  (Thus the reason for poetry in the first place.  But I digress.)

My final word is that THE NEW ARCANA is a valuable piece of literature that’s worthy of study by poets and other writers, and should intrigue lovers of postmodern and experimental poetic forms everywhere.  (Further part-time poet sayeth not.)

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Written by Barb Caffrey

December 2, 2012 at 12:57 am

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