Jon Rutzmoser’s thin book of poetry packed with thick descriptions of dicks, dire and dramatic Oedipal complexes, heavy-petting psychoanalytic theory references, and Disneyland descriptors made me laugh, pissed me off, had me rolling my eyes, and had me wondering what it means to write poetry today. I don’t write poetry; I quit in high school in search of something bigger and better — journalism or art criticism, maybe? — but every writer works with words, and every word has a meaning beyond its meaning meaning, its syntax or context or distance from the word before. Playing with words is a joyful exercise for every writer, and for some artists, too, like Ryan Trecartin, who, of course, Rutzmoser references in shhhh! it’s poetry. The 66-page book published by the Los Angeles–based Insert Blanc Press contains poetry of such joyful, spontaneous, erotic nature that I easily drifted off and thought about masturbating while thinking that Rutzmoser may also have been masturbating while he wrote these poems, and sometimes he could have just jerked off and it would have been just as well.
That’s not a critique of the book. Well, it kind of is. There’s a lot of jerking off here, wordplay mental masturbation, if you will. Divided into two parts — “part one / complexion” and “part two / post!modern” — the book begins like any disassociated writerly manifesto: with an eight-part poem entitled “after ph_ll_s.” I assumed this was referring to “phallus,” but no, it’s a character named Phillis, possibly a grandmother, a mother, a vessel of a female form; it’s also codeword for phallus, the reason that a character named Susan was born. By section vi, we discover “susan … who is … phillis … now,” and then section vii drifts into what reads like a seduction scene from Sunset Boulevard: “darling … spoon me … this second … this hand couch holds … ” Or whatever.
Wait, I added that “Or whatever.” Maybe I channeled it from someone on the list of female artists in the poem “pop / goes / the / easel,” where a “young boy dressed as an artist” invites the women to a performance full of piss. There are 39 invitees, including Marina Abramović, Jenny Holzer, Julia Kristeva, Chris Kraus, Kara Walker, Madonna, and Yoko Ono. A fine list, indeed. Would they show up to piss on the young boy, a gathering reminiscent of artist Meg Leary’s 2012 project “Douse the Diva,” in which she actually did stand, wearing white and singing opera, while friends stood in a circle shooting at her with water guns that she’d bought. Rutzmoser’s poetry blends into the performative so much so that we would like to hear this poem read aloud and then see this scene performed. Alas, it is just poetry.
There are many poems in this compilation with titles that are just, “dear _______ .” They fill multiple pages, and are entertaining in a way that MadLibs is — insert your own subject line, complete the thought, and really put yourself into it all. Except for the one that seems to be addressed to postmodern love, which is a clever mashup of the Black Eyed Peas’ “Let’s Get It Started” and a dry joke about the clash between modernity and postmodernity in a MoMA bathroom.
And then I am wondering: who is this elusive James Franco–esque artist/writer/performer who writes these poems? Clearly it doesn’t matter; this is a YouTube mashup, and the poem “a young motherfucker” answers all of the questions:
a young motherfucker / dressed as a model / films himself
he films himself / undressing / pressing play
we’re rolling / he says
The young motherfucker moves away from the selfie moment and continues to his second act of narcissism, the act of fucking, on a porn set or on camera, or somewhere where someone else is watching. Thank god he uses a condom, because no one makes cakes that say “congrats on your teen pregnancy,” except this asshole.
So, what else do I know about after reading Rutzmoser’s book and writing this quasi-review? Nothing, really, but the epilogue, the very last section after “post!modernism” ends, is a list of “it’s” lines completed with various phrases and adjectives, reminding us that the poetry contained in this book is … whatever you want it to be!!! It is tautological theory on the rocks; it is boring; it is joyful. It is words strung together on a page, painting a picture, making some sense and enjoying themselves along the way. Or just jerking off to words on a page that had fun writing themselves, in the order they appear. What is poetry today? Who cares. Just have fun while you’re doing it.
Jon Rutzmoser’s shhhh! it’s poetry is available from Insert Blanc Press.