‘Loading’ by Jonathan Allen & Anselm Berrigan

loading cover
  • COLDFRONT RATING: three-half
  • PUBLISHED BY: Brooklyn Arts Press 2013
  • REVIEW BY: Virginia Konchan


“…what / We let get called structure ”


By degrees, our cultural disconnect from sources of sustenance and limitation (from food to power grids) creates psychic landscapes, and poems, that gesture at the need for the tools of literal survival, as well as access to the people, opportunities, and places that allow us to evolve, express higher-order desires (relational to aesthetic) and shape our lives in accordance with our visions.

A tall order currently in 21st century disarray, like the ghosted architectural images provided by Jonathan Allen in the collaborative poetic text Loading. Anselm Berrigan treats postmodern ennui and the poets’ perennial search for a deictic axis to anchor words in space and time; he also uses them as a poetic compass to express the need, however phantasmal, for direction and futurity. His fight against the military, cultural, and technocratic coups of our generation through language is estimable and laced with scorn.  “Home” is the ultimate chiasma, and yet in the collection’s title poem, the only noun not deconstructed: “home/ In time for the horrors of/ Selection according to what/ We let get called structure.”

The images also gesture toward the need to establish not just nominally, but in the physical universe, order and form: canvases of textural fabrics and buildings contain elements of erasure and semaphores (arrows), suggesting the need for a cognitive (bound by a grid other than the poetic line, and a form other than the page) as well as physical mapping of space.  The word, Culler suggests, is a gift—his painting “For a word” reads like a request for alms (meaning), and “Dodging Folding Volumes” speaks to the modernist difficulties inherent to linguistic representation (authority, intention, closure), framed by Berrigan as “speaking necrotics.”

The only somewhat realistic image in the book resembles Jorges Luis Borges’s infinite library, which is also the cover image of the book: a room surrounded not by speakers or painting but by winding walls full of texts. It comes across as a visual meme for the future, when as post-literate subjects living in the throes of image culture, we return, rather than capitulate, to the bounded sarcophagi of logos, government, law. Environmentalist rhetoric is here coupled with potshots at the bastions of the European “avant-garde” (“Go Frack Yourself With Your Urinal”), poems that write the self not as persona but alienated subject, free to play, if textually, with not just potential but actual selves, an experiment that results in a collusion of metaphors:  “Anselm// Is a niche poetess behind a window/ Named nurture, doing the voice, saying// How at every pre-environment outset:/ Donkey donkey donkey donkey donkey . . .”

Who’s crowd-sourcing, funding, and promoting who?  What constitutes the latest media buy-out, or sell-out, by inflated multinationals, and to what form of state or private surveillance are you prey? What Berrigan most wants to know, and, in Loading, finds (however insufficient or bitter–“We like a bilingual hinge about now / you can get some suckle from a / local armoirery too, goddamnit”–a discovery) is his own hunger, admittance of apocalyptic boredom, and complicity in the systems (disaster capitalism, language) to which there appears to be no “outside” — subsumptions both formal and real, subverted only by the sliver of hope in art’s autonomy from “same.” Berrigan and Allen hold up a mirror up to the reader, demanding an answer to the question of what script you’re following–Oedipal, neoliberal, hetero/queer, marital–and who’s funding you.