The contemporary poetry scene is livelier than ever, and nowhere more so than in New York City, as a cursory glance at the Poetry Calendar proves. But you’d never know it from Colby’s anthology. In theory Colby should know the hip young poets of New York well; he used to run the Wednesday night readings at the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church. Unfortunately, he has collected what appears to be the dregs of the self-anointed Next Big Things, the sort of mixture of gimmicky performance pieces, faux surrealism, and dogged doggerel that has become the depressing staple of the downtown scene. The writers herein range from the dimestore dada of Brenda Coultas and the editor himself to Anselm Berrigan’s fractured aphorisms tied together by ampersands to the tedious list-making rants of Kenneth Goldsmith and the inverted clichés of Mitchell Highfill. One gets every conceivable form of secondhand Beat writing, from the cut-up method to apparently drug-induced fantasias. Colby made an effort to seek out writers for whom poetry is really a side project, an interesting notion except when the results are the tedious drivel emanating from rock’n’rollers Lee Ranaldo (heavily derivative use of typography in the interests of “outraging” the bourgeoisie) and Mimi Goese (prose poetry that reads like a cross between Jim Morrison and Rod McKuen), and contributions from playwright Mac Wellman that can only be described as gnomic, surrealist fortune-cookie fillers. The only writers to emerge from this mess with their dignity intact are Maggie Estep, who contributes an amusing short story in dialogue about unrequited sexual longing, and Amy Fusselman, who offers some inventive embarrassing moments (like seeing her 72-year-old realtor perform at a strip joint).
If this is the future of poetry in New York, then poetry has no future.