Monday, October 03, 2005



The new volume of light and heavy verse by Etaion Shrdlu, A Tocsin Before We Brunch, breaks new ground not only in its nervy prosody but also in the way it steals a page from the World Wide Web and provides the reader with links between poems which make the order in which they are read a conscious declaration of choice that Sartre would have approved of. Already required reading on numerous college campuses and featured on the coffeehouse circuit here and abroad, Ms. Shrdlu is a fixture on the transnational literary scene ignored by the award-granting establishment at their own peril, in many critics' opinion.

98 of the 100 poems are set in a nightmare wasteland of Abu Cupcake where the author was incarcerated for sixteen months on a sensational set of felony charges too familiar to mention here. She addresses her verse to the largely insensate murderers and check-kiters who populated the facility, to the sinister and vapid guards with their penchant for random capricious cruelties visited on any in their purview, and to the mysterious "Commandanta" whose veiled sexually ambiguous presence haunted and perfumed the grounds. About one-third of these are composed in the rigid and demanding confessional mode perfected by Ms. Shrdlu, each one ending in a scattering of Hail Marys and Glory Bes. Whether focussing on the minutiae of the pharmaceutical regimen administered to the "guests of Abu," on the monotonous unpleasantness of the mostly uncatastrophic acts of Nature, or on abstruse points of the author's mainly self-taught enthusiasm for algebraic topology, Ms. Shrdlu's long, looping lines of words "decorated" with diacritics and proofer's marks cast a seamless net of rhythmic brightlines which ineluctably snare even the most careless reader. I dug it, yo.

Etaion Shrdlu is now back on the outside, in the Federal Witness Protection Program, hidden under an assumed secret identity of "Eileen Tabios." No, her number is *not* in the book. Let us hope that her next collection of poems (working title:
Improvised Explosive Dialogues) can live up to this ambitious and, dare one say, ballsy group, and also that the Cosa Nostra do not catch up with her before it is completed.


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