Beckman, Joshua and Matthew Rohrer. Nice Hat. Thanks. Amherst, MA: Verse Press, 2002.
Beckman and Rohrer’s collaborative book consist of six sections, each section titled according to the number of lines the poems therein contain. For instance, the authors title the first section “Two Lines: thirty-two two-line poems” and the final section “A Note on Process: being an improvised attempt at disclosure done one word at a time.” As the closing section’s title makes clear, these naming procedures explicitly state the collection’s interest in the poetic process and material construction of the poems. To wit, the poets inform their audience that “First we thought rhyming would work because Allen Ginsberg and Kenneth Koch thought said so…Next we tried using formal constraints” (63); yet, the authors admit that “We rhymed poorly,” and with regard to constraints: “Sometimes losing is winning” (63). Instead, they settle upon “narratives” and “Space-age experiments” wherein “I say something and then he says something” and “We record everything” (63). As for the end results, the first section of two-line poems read as oblique and absurdly humorous aphorisms, such as “Coasting downhill/ requires austerity” (9) and “Precise and diminutive,/ at least it’s your stroller” (13). While more often than not trite, the opening poems do raise some interesting questions regarding the speaker’s identity, specifically with the manner in which the poems use pronouns. For example, the first poem states: “I fell at the party./ I’m still at the party” (9). Are readers to believe that the “I” in both instances is the same speaker, even if written by different authors? And, how are we to know what author wrote which line? Does it matter? Three poems later, we encounter the initial use of the first-person plural, “We’ll team up/ and dance,” thus indicating a collective presence or identity not present in the first poem. While the three-line poem section passes as rather unremarkable, the four-line poems provide more dynamism in that the poems employ extensive and deliberate repetition, whether in the form of entire lines (i.e. “I dance with the bearded/ in both kinds of weather/ I dance with the bearded/ I dance with the bearded”) or hard-rhyme schemes. While the five-line poems of the following section contain “failed longer poems,” it begins with “three-line poems with [two-line] commentary” (33). In some cases, the associative leaps between the poems proper and their commentaries tend to be rather expansive, thus encouraging the reader to create the connections on their own. For instance: “Noelle Kocot/ is an inspiration to young people/ and birds.// I fear/ and think” (37); the relationship between the “fear” and thought of the “I” and “Noelle Kocot” being “an inspiration to young people/ and birds” can only be guessed at, as no direction correlation can logically be deduced from what the authors offer the reader. When the poems of this section are not providing dissociative logic, they unabashedly strive for sophomoric humor: “I love New York/ more than you,/ buddy.// Take that shirt/ back to Jersey.” (36). The penultimate section, titled “Long Poems,” regularly employs repetitive use of nouns, calling to mind the nonce forms of first-wave New York School poets, and, no doubt, signals particular formal constraints undertaken by Beckman and Rohrer. To wit, the poem “Tonight” repeats the name “Ezekiel,” while “Monkeys” uses the word “monkeys” in the same fashion.