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Joe Amato's the sort of poet who will never be invited to roll Easter eggs on the White House lawn, even if Barack Obama or Ralph Nader becomes president. He's just too difficult and contrary and, in FINGER EXORCISES at any rate, he shuns the affirmative on all six cylinders, resisting temptation like those wax-stuffed sailors the sirens' song. Even the title registers as a rebuke, the poet giving the finger to this day and age and the "in crowd" that ruins everything.
His poems are worth grappling with on many levels. Well, one or two of them are too long, and it's a long book anyhow, into which Amato has poured out his passion, his anger, his good faith and his "assconsciousness." I like the way he's unafraid to experiment with registers of emotion, unafraid of formal innovation, and yet he maintains a healthy skepticism towards everything that looks like a school. His motto might well be (from "a saying, for," one of the most manifesto-like poems in the book), "Nothing say, nothing risk." He doesn't care if he comes off preachy or learned, that's part of his shtick. What he cares about is shaking the dust off poetry and the state. He's an anarchist, and his poems reflect this freedom, not infrequently spinning off into graphic forms or alternative typefaces, not to mention spinning back and forth between tight metered forms and the wildest of "free verse," sometimes chopped up with minced prose sentences, the way you or I might chop up onions, then tomatoes, to make our old fashion Mulligan Stew. He extends this spirit to the "chestnuts" of the past, rewiring everything from Housman's "Loveliest of Trees" to Ginsberg's HOWL.
And he's got a wicked sense of humor about himself and his project. He's not posing as the Great Oz, he's just a guy, a guy with history, a guy moving through time, or that's how he pokes fun at himself. "Furthermore," he writes, "the more scrupulous of you will not fail to conclude/ a writing utterly lacking in critique of bourgeois pluralism/ [....] the writing's/ continentally facile, aesthethicized approach to self-expression," he admits, blustering, "I'm not the kind of poet to let you down, my pets."
This book could use a good "Product Description" on Amazon, how is a person supposed to figure out what he's buying just from that crazy title, the little thumbnail of what the book jacket looks like, and that's it? Well, the cognoscenti will buy anything with Joe Amato's name on it, though the fanboys who love Joe D'Amato's horror, Western and Emanuelle knockoffs, hoping this item is a hitherto unknown D'Amato exorcist ripoff, will be crying havoc when they open the Amazon packages. And I'll be thumbing my nose because I ordered right even under conditions of extreme WTFity.