Daniel Borzutzky's The Ecstasy of Capitulation (BlazeVOX [books], 2007) consists of one cheap conceptual joke and Mad-Libs-style grammatical gimmick after another. It is filled with snarky poetic in-references and broad satirical jabs at broader social targets. The humor is consistently pitched at either a scatological/bratty/infantile level or a glib/bratty/faux-surreal level. Here are the first three sentences of "The Heart Is a Lonely Perineum":
And if it is true that all I can do is float
through these tunnels of dust and pain in which
capital swims in the arms of mercilessness,
then I will put you in the coffin I wear
around my waist and bind you with a rose to the
small triangular bone at the end of my
spinal column where the you that is not you shall
meet the you that might be you and together we
will form a family who will flourish inside this
golden abyss whose entryway is guarded by
a gaggle of slithering creditors with
pee-pees for guns and Chinese porcelain for
eyeballs. For who is to say that the air we breathe
is anything more than a secret code both
capricious in structure and marketable in
the substance of its sad and tender humility.
I was teaching the Laotians about the
existential implications of the
conditional voice when a man came on the
loudspeaker and said we were all a bunch of
Mexican widows with secret Jewish husbands
on our titties.
The signature gesture throughout is the familiar one of Romantic Irony: deflating "elevated" or "poetic" expression by subjecting it at each crescendo to a sudden bathos. This is the stuff of schoolroom goofery, of hollow show-offy lampooning. Even prosodically, Borzutzky's method is transparently threadbare--the line-ends occur on articles and prepositions with mechanical regularity, in order to create a precipitous, continually revolving, logorrhetic effect, as of someone who can't find a way to finish a phrase and so just keeps going.
And yet, somehow it all works. At the bottom of all this horsewash is an impassioned literary sensibility. I'm using "literary" here to mean a quality of creative engagement with the culture's language as it actually exists, in the service of whatever not-entirely-utilitarian end. Is that an adequate definition of "poetic" as well? I'm not sure. But it is texts like this one that make testing such distinctions very interesting.
Borzutzsky is willfully unrestrained by taste, discretion, or subtlety, at the same time that he appears to be plunged deep in a dedicated love-struggle with the root forms of artistic verbal expression. If this amorous fumbling sometimes results in the birth of clunkers, they are clunkers whose collective dull thuds add a sonorous echo to the whole.
All in all, one of the two or three very best books of poetry of the twenty-first century so far that feature a large animal-shaped sales balloon on the front cover.