The Selected Poems of Hamster
by Carlos Blackburn
Ugly Duckling Presse 2008
Reviewed by Ken L. Walker
In a Cage, on Antibiotics
In 1973, in a series of lectures entitled “Society Must Be Defended,” Michel Foucault drew (verbally) his philosophical graph which would lead him to the acceptance of the state always being racist. Racism (in the non-American context) was the sub-note. The over-arching highlight was that power had transformed and transferred arteries but remained flowing in a similar body. What once was sovereign was now biological. Human beings lived as systematically as seventeenth century Franciscans, gardening and cleaning and caring for their bodies.
Routine and cage are the names of the game (see also Radiohead’s OK Computer, and note that Thom Yorke apparently gave a shout out to Foucault’s idea of sovereignty at a Paris show). This, too, is the stratagem behind Carlos Blackburn’s Selected Poems of Hamster, fresh off the produce shelves of Brooklyn’s Ugly Duckling Presse.
Blackburn writes: “Up against the glass / looking over the vista / stereo, books. / Something, rain / beyond the window.”
It’s lovely. It’s also laced and will thus shape-shift your possible poetic high into a lulled bout of madness. Hamster behavior is redundant. And if Foucault were reading this work, he might nod his head while scratching one of the itchy bald spots; but, what he may dislike is the existential meaning which is contrived and artificial here, that worth and merit in existence are rare as the Hamster’s good moments.
The chapbook rolls around in its own shit, revels in the mundane which, in turn, offers the gorgeousness of the uninteresting and tedious a more than commonplace locale in the world. “A plant has started / to peek at us / from around a / corner.” This is a lovely, temporarily halting Williams-esque fragment. Wheelbarrows and rain are flipped to the urban apartment interior. The bad splinters are plentiful and not worth mentioning.
Both Stevens and MacLeish discussed human behavior as being in a state of normal-abnormality in their poetry – that in the future (the 21st) we would need to freeze our little transcendental moments and hold them in sculpture form to make sure they do not instantaneously fleet off. Blackburn may be trying this but he is only disturbing the realm of imagism while attempting to say (with domestic pet wit) what has been said over and over again since the late 1970s by all of Foucault’s little hamster-like followers.