Some of my poems appear in the new issue of Transgender Tapestry. Thanks again to poetry editor kari edwards, whose original writing/thinking in the territories of gender and bodily experience has been very influential for me.
Burn: Doxology for Joan of Arc by Patrick Pritchett Poetry Paperback, 112 pages $16.00 ISBN 0-925904-50-3
In Burn, Jeanne d'Arc's familiarity swerves radically from body-in-flame to a restlessly questioning interior life --a profound and contemporary meditation wherein Patrick Pritchett laminates his own voice to Joan's, struggling (for both) with the forcible claims of 'King' and obedience vs. the radiant uncertainties of angel, fire and error. Brilliantly circuitous and exquisitely pitched, these poems unfold the possibility of an unboundary'd life where uncommonness leads to 'swimming with God.'" -- Kathleen Fraser
American Tatts by Linh Dinh Poetry Paperback, 94 pages $16.00 ISBN 0-925904-47-3
"There are two kinds of readers in English, those who are passionate fans of the poetry of Linh Dinh and those who have yet to read his writing. These are works without waste, with the driest sense of humor and, throughout, an underlying feel for the pain of living that calls to mind Kathy Acker as much as Kafka. Linh Dinh looks at the world with the clearest eyes imaginable, a walking example of the role of the real at the heart of the surreal." -- Ron Silliman
A couple of thoughts about The Aristocrats, which I thought was at times really hilarious but at other times provoked only strained laughter from its participants. The movie in fact skirted around a central issue: the joke itself isn't actually very funny. The premise: a lineup of comedians tells many many different permutations of the same classic gag. Quick précis: a man walks into a talent agent's office and says he has a vaudeville act, a family act. Middle section: man describes the act in detail…it's unspeakably dirty and violent and usually involves various acts of sexual perversion and incest using various orifices, excrement, urine, and various other bodily fluids. The punchline supposedly comes when the agent says, "What do you call your act?" and the man replies "The Aristocrats." As most of the comedians in the movie explain it, the more one prolongs this middle section and loads up with unbelievably gross material, the more explosive the punchline at the end gets.
Actually, the more a comedian improvises on and extends this dirty middle section, the more of a whimper the final punchline becomes, because there's no such thing as an American aristocrat -- the concept is virtually a foreign notion to us except as some dim echo of European royalty which we resent because we instinctively connect it with Brahmins and similar types (the remnants of this in John Kerry having ruined his chances to be president). Let's face it, the closest thing to an American aristocracy as articulated is this scenario would be The New Yorker magazine (quite arguably just another subculture next to that of hipsters and religious fundmentalists) and even that comparison becomes a stretch outside of New York, because so much of this country's wealth is new money. But there's another problem with the joke's architecture: as written, it relies on the listener (or society) not only providing strong feelings of sexual repression/taboo but also drawing a cause-effect relationship between these feelings and a class prudishness about "appropriate behavior." Americans haven't had any such attitude that married these two concepts since the days of Eisenhower. No wonder no-brow humorist Cartman claims he doesn't get it.
There's yet another reason the joke doesn't work: even assuming we were the kind of prudes implied by the setup, "aristocrats" is the wrong word and it doesn't produce the anticipated surprise effect. Eric Idle (one of 2 non-American comics in the lineup) spoke exactly what was on my mind when he explained that for the English, aristocracy is implicitly connected with something more like decadence: (my paraphrase) "the English expect aristocrats to be doing all kinds of unspeakable acts." So predictably, the comedians behind the movie choose to pretend the joke works really well, and instead turn the focus towards all the ways in which it is so "American": how the middle section becomes a kind of "improvisational space" where the "individual comic's voice comes through" and you can "go wild and get as dirty as you want."
The best and most daring renditions of the joke were successful because they made changes in the mechanism/form of its structure, changes that reflected an awareness of why it didn't work in the first place. Stephen Wright's version ends like this: the agent says "So what do you call your act?" the man responds "The Aristocrats," and after a short pause the agent says completely seriously (in Wright's deadpan delivery) "I'd like to see that." Here the joke's main contrast (the juxtaposition of filth and prudery) is funnier because it has been expanded into a form of surreal dramatic irony and the straight man position has vanished.
The other most successful version of the joke, done by Judy Gold, worked precisely because it was able to re-establish the context of prudishness necessary to the punchline. In her version, the vaudeville act involves an elaborate suburban (and bourgeois) ritual in which mother serves father and children tea and strawberries with cream and they do various refined things together like listen to classical music and discuss philosophy. What is this act called? "The Cocksucking Motherfuckers." And John Stewart's version enacts a similarly appropriate reversal: "The Osbournes."