D.W. Lichtenberg's "The Ancient Book of Hip" (Hmm. Brilliant or the bare arse of an emperor?)


Okay, I got this email, and the email was this:
Dear Joni Rodgers at Boxing the Octopus,

On November 18, 2009, Fourteen Hills Press and SFSU Creative Writing Dept. released the winner of the 2009 Michael Rubin Book Award: THE ANCIENT BOOK OF HIP by D.W. Lichtenberg. This debut collection is a case study, a documentation, a journaling. It is a bunch of poems about girls, sex, cigarettes, PBR, and everything else that is the phenomenon of hip.

What people are saying:
"There is a real zest in these poems. Lichtenberg's joy in the every day reminds me of the daily pleasures as Frank O'Hara embraced them."
- John Skoyles, author of The Situation and poetry editor of Ploughshares

"Whether riding the subway or 'talking shit about a pretty sunset,' his is a highly entertaining new voice that will win you over with its combination of disarming simplicity and incisive wit."
- Elaine Equi, author of Ripple Effect

"Lichtenberg possesses a unique charm that attracts people who might otherwise not have much in common."
- Evan Karp, The Examiner

If you are interested in a galley or an interview, please let us know!
I must confess, I don't know what PBR means, but sheesh, how was I not going to be interested?

The book arrived, one of those small format paperbacks you buy at poetry readings (unless you're the callous sort who can walk away without separating yourself from the ten or fifteen bucks that would offer the poor poet a shred of validation to show his mother who once had such high hopes for him.) It actually fit nicely into a pocket of my purse usually reserved for my passport. I liked the title and the primal/childlike cover design, but when I read the introduction, I laughed out loud and rolled my eyes. Yarg. Twenty-somethings. I immediately concluded that I was so not the target audience for this book. Me in this book = The Clapper in a disco bar.

Then I read a few pages and started thinking...oh...maybe the intro was...oh. Okay. Reading on. Ha! Clever turn of phrase. Cringe. Holden Caulfield reference. Whoa. KILLER turn of phrase. Yes. Healthy frisson of big picture.

Colleen has a term for the strutting and circle-jerking that sometimes go on in academic and literary publishing: "the emperor's new prose." Remember that old fable? The preening emperor and all the sycophants pretended to see lavish garments, when in fact their fearless leader was walking down the street bare naked.

Having read through The Ancient Book of Hip four or five times, I'm thinking maybe this is what happens when the emperor knows he's naked, but he walks down the street anyway, revealing himself to his subjects and his subjects to themselves. Maybe the moment you decide you don't get it is the moment you actually do.

Or maybe I seriously don't get it. But if that's the case, why did I like it so much?

It was no struggle to sit with the pages. All the twenty-something writer stuff I usually find annoying was actually kind of...endearing. This collection is entertaining in a way that very few such collections are. I suppose, whether you're gazing at Spoon River or the bare arse of a young emperor -- hey, what's not to enjoy about either experience? At the end of the day, I found myself feeling protective -- auntish even -- toward Lichtenberg, knowing what the writing and publishing life will be for this kid if he stays as viscerally connected to it as he seems to be.

As undeniably un-hip as I am, I knew I could look to my insufferably hip twenty-something daughter for clarity. Last night, when I told her about The Ancient Book of Hip, Jerusha said, "Good poetry doesn't have a target audience. It's like scripture. Different meaning for everyone who reads it with an open mind."

I'm worried that Lichtenberg's mother might be glaring at me, saying, "Must you encourage him?" but I'm purchasing another copy of The Ancient Book of Hip. Jerusha needs a copy, and I'd rather separate myself from the twelve bucks than separate myself from this primal/childlike, evocative, annoying, endearing, quite possibly brilliant little book.

Click here for excerpts. And if anyone out there is hip enough to know what "PBR" means, please clap me on.

Comments

marjorie said…
heh. i love jerusha's comment.

PBR: pabst blue ribbon. official beer of hipsters.
Joni Rodgers said…
Oh! Thanks, Marjorie.

(Sigh. I thought it was going to be something too salacious to spell. Shame on me.)
And here I thought THE ANCIENT BOOK OF HIP must surely contain at least one reference to Boxing the Octopus. We're ancient! We're hip!

Oh, wait. My son tells me only one of those is true. And not the cool one. :)
ccp said…
Hello. PBR = Pabst Blue Ribbon.

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