American Pleasure – book review
"I want to keep this forever. Alas, a new day has already begun." These two sentences, situated well into the narrative of a protagonist obsessed with a woman, a city, and an idea, very well may be the subtitle of this novel.
However, to reduce the novel to the idea of obsession, or archive, is to do the writing (and writer) a great disservice; "American Pleasure" is far more than your standard, post-Beat elegy to the City by the Bay. For one, it centers San Francisco as a legitimate character who is every bit as ornery, every bit as tender, every bit as sexy as the actually, flesh-and-blood characters--most Beat and post-Beat (and the reason I'm creating the juxtaposition here is because scant few Northern Californian narratives seem to exist post-Ginsberg that aren't trying--and largely failing--to emulate the famous style) literature actually just positions the city as a foil for whatever deviant activities the protagonist is up to.
Rather, "American Pleasure" seems to get inside of obsession, orienting it in a specific place and a specific time (which seems all the more timely, as the fortress in question, The Armory, was just recently sold), and push the walls and horizons outward. The woman in question is most definitely fetishized, most definitely held up to impossible standards of beauty/performance/morality--however, where a lesser novel would just let the fetish ruin everything for feminist readers, the protagonist in this novel actually seems to acknowledge his own shortcomings, and that, readers, makes all the difference.
62 poems from Judson Vereen
62 Poems from Judson Vereen – book review
People often romanticize young poets, and the appeal is quite clear: there is something special about being so new, so bursting with feeling - almost pure in the way they conduct themselves and express their inner worlds. What there may in Judson Vereen's "62 poems" goes beyond anything that can be put in such expected words; there is a level of depth, a degree of skepticism in Vereen’s collection that escapes any of these clichés.
There is pain in many of his words. But there is also light. Lightness and darkness dance beautifully all over this compendium made by the artist in his teenage years. Many of the poems are short and fleeting - everything about “62” seems to have a sense of urgency, but hardly the one we usually associate with youth; it is an urge to live fully, to devour and elaborate complex feelings about being a creative person that loves intensely, makes art incessantly and struggles to understand his role in the world we live in - a world whose rules clearly never made any sense to the author. His declarations to former lovers are passionate, and so is the way his words are directed to friends, cities, and anything that captures the attention and the heart of the artist.
Following Vereen's career as a whole, it is noticeable that the inclination to cause extreme and strong reactions seems to come pretty easy to his artistic self. But there is no point here in separating the artist and the man, or, in the case of “62”, the boy: such a personal work deserves to be appreciated under a personal, intimate light. And here lies the strength of "62": personal excavation. The self-exploration and expression of raw feelings and thoughts made by the artist as a young man come with such honesty about who he is and where he wishes to be. The poetry you will find here vibrates with beautiful and sometimes uncomfortable truths - and while this compendium is brief, it serves as a rewarding introduction to the work of a restless artist.