Out with it: it’s been a long time since satire has read as well as Berfrois’ free e-chap, Relentless by Jeff Bezos. I’ll be bold and summon certain of Flannery O’Connor’s works for comparison; Voltaire; Huxley’s Point Counter Point specifically; and if my comparison seems too too indulgent, I invite you to recall that Relentless by Jeff Bezos has 23 poets in its service to one Aldous—and I invite you to read it.
Let’s recall what satires do, straightaway: ridicule, expose, criticize, exaggerate stupidities. Still higher satire strips its interrogator bare, really bare, for every lash it gives its subject. In Relentless by Jeff Bezos, Bezos—or, as Berfrois tells us (with more than a nod to Derrida’s “Limited Inc a b c . . .”), a person ‘purely coincidental’ to business magnate J.B.—is burlesqued, yes, cut alternately into prim ribbons and gouged-out in chunks; but the meditative sum of each variable voice is troubled complicity. ‘The joke’s on us,’ and in no digestible way.
Those chunks and ribbons—those maenads, really, and those chilly Delphic oracles. Let’s applaud editor Russell Bennetts for his pacing, since the poise of Andrea Cohen’s “No End”—the last of it following—
the beta version
of silence in an empty
house—how else, how
better, to drown out
silence in rooms
dwelled in together?
casts a potent Apollonian haze that is ruffled, but not dissipated, until Laura A. Warman’s unceremonious, gnashing turn in “BRICK & MORTAR SUPPORT YOUR BRICK & MORTAR”:
you are safe now you are with me
I will preserve you. No I would not
fuck that like I would not fuck my daughter
My reader’s recoil at this is so, so fascinating. In the previous pages, we’ve begun to see the ravel of Bezos’ commercial exploits and excesses to which we will return throughout the book—his place is the tycoon cortége, ‘billionaires orbiting the earth,’ ‘Abu Ghraib,’ the Amazon drones, the Blue Orbit bit—but here, it appears Warman has gone too far. She’s wound a churchly ‘ . . . will preserve you’ with a triple-negative incest math, even the hint of which is cause to set the whole e-chap ablaze. This is where I began to wonder: Why. Why is it I have digested, with relative readerly ease, a mention of Abu Ghraib, huge capital surfeits, the assured ‘Warehouses do not constitute a physical presence’ and ‘inseminating cattle with my thoughts,’ but huff to see my Judeo-C ethics looked at with one skewed eyeball?
Undergirding the satiric mechanism is the idea that some breaches of ethics are to be systemically ignored, others vigorously impugned; this we realize reading Relentless by Jeff Bezos, our Amazon Prime shipment on the front porch.
Well played, Warman.
Bennetts is quick to capitalize on the maths begun by Warman, following with Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl’s replicative “AFTER VITO ACCONCI,” a poem wherein seemingly harmless amazon.com directions and content-standards take on a confrontational performativity (á la Acconci):
BUY THIS WORD THEN BUY THIS WORD NEXT BUY THIS WORD
NOW ONE-CLICK ONE BUY ONE-CLICK ONE BUY NEXT ONE-CLICK
ONE BUY NOW AND THEN ONE-CLICK ONE BUY AGAIN REVIEW
THREE WORDS NOW REVIEW THREE WORDS NOW TOO
CUSTOMERS INTERESTED IN FIVE WORDS WERE ALSO
INTERESTED IN SIX WORDS NOW BUY IT NOW REVIEW THESE
At this point in Relentless by Jeff Bezos, the Dionysian begins a consistent exchange with the Apollonian (as persona styles mix with diatribes, narratives, list-poems), such that the caustic—the ‘gouged-out’ from earlier—is met (not compromised, nor mollified, but met) by likewise cut bolts. Remember, however: it’s all blood for Bezos.
From DW Lichtenberg’s “5/5 Stars (13 Reviews) We Are Just Trying To Have A Good Time At The Expense of Others”:
Later we are talking and we are realizing we are losing eyelashes we are losing them all the time you and I. When did we become so cynical.
What ever happened to blacking out and finding a stranger.
We are thinking it’s been too long feeling nothing you and I. Too long without feeling anything at all.
From Sharon Mesmer’s bizarrely apt, laugh-out-loud funny, estranging “There Is Authority In My Frozen Frosty by Jeff Bezos”:
A bent ebony jester translates my charity
As I probe a soft fry inside the womb of Sarah.
In my hour of felicity I came upon a poser calf’s waggery
Preening a sporty boffo repose.
I should have availed myself of the poser calf’s waggery
But My Little Pony had toffeed my Fonzie.
I should have translated charity into the shadow of death
But God’s porny ozone presented some “Fey Spent Jezus” prose tropes.
From Kirsten Kaschock’s “Variation on a Theme (Princeton)”:
Even now I read Borges
and schematize the sublime.
My library is
doubles as a bulldozer.
Sustainability: to make clear
a path beyond asymptotic growth.
From “Advice for My Critics” by Tom Daley:
Affordability finds its nose
in penalties that stymie your endorphins.
An alarm is nothing more than a reproach
of a couch recused by her own contortions.
My profit margin’s slender or slipping to red?
Now, there’s a sloppy nostalgia.
My portfolio’s wider than the customized bed
where Herr Procrustes buffs up your neuralgia.
Though a few clichés and bad puns slip through in Relentless by Jeff Bezos, contributors are surprisingly circumspect in this regard, and the search for a creative lexicon that picks from, but does not regurgitate, verbiage applicable to what Lance Newman calls ‘Jeff Bezos, his mark,’ feels earnest.
Critically, I linger about the sensation I have (in the interest of full disclosure, my “What a head have I” in included in the e-chap) that certain poems depend upon the collection for real resonance. Some, like Daniel Bosch’s “My Peculiar Geography,” are clearly ‘bigger’ than Relentless by Jeff Bezos—as any poem must be its own lone, alien architecture. Instead of my usual suspicion about those poems’ ‘dependence,’ however, I’m inclined to applaud the terrarium Bennetts has made for its own panes and caulking, for its own situation in half-light. It’s a chrysmal, a nasty brownie, a dragonet. It has the goals, I think, of a high satire, and achieves them; as a ‘collection,’ it feels, with 23 disparate voices, remarkably thorough. I cannot get free, either, of an interior comparison of the e-chap, it’s awful visage, with that of O’Connor’s Mrs. Chestny at the close of “Everything That Rises Must Converge”: ‘One eye, large and staring, moved slightly to the left as if it had become unmoored. The other remained fixed . . . raked his face again, found nothing and closed.’
That eye, remember, looks at us. Through us, perhaps.
Bosch’s “My Peculiar Geography” is unquestionably the proper end to Relentless by Jeff Bezos, composed, as Bosch tells us in the endnotes, ‘of language lifted from . . . Wikipedia entries on “Jeffrey Bezos” and “Amazon” (the river), with some changes of verb pronoun and tense.’ The use of a structured (but delicately intoned) refrain—if one chooses not to elide the ‘li’ half-foot in peculiar, Because of my peculiar geography is solid iambic hexameter—is pitched beautifully throughout:
Because of my peculiar geography,
I wanted to build space hotels, amusement parks, and colonies
for 2 million or 3 million people who would be in orbit.
Because of my peculiar geography,
My goal was to evacuate humans. The whole idea was to preserve the earth.
Every year I rise more than 9 metres, and I flood the surrounding forests,
Because of my peculiar geography.
Check, again, this varied and subtle voice: ‘2 million or 3 million’ evinces a rather clueless sensibility about figures (well, the human ledger) and, therefore, a cluelessness about the singular importance an individual places on her own life (‘er, Mr. Bezos, in which hundred-thousand am I? do I get into orbit?’); the altruistic intent of the speaker is further undermined by the phrase ‘evacuate humans’ and the colloquial ‘the whole idea . . .’; the speaker snaps back into numerical acuity just quickly enough to mark his own exact volume change, and tosses off any gaffes by reiterating the ‘peculiarity’ of his geography.
The poem’s closing couplet is owed a full build-up, so I’ll leave it to you.
Before that close, however, Bosch does us the service of a heady summation of the Babel that is Relentless by Jeff Bezos, his speaker stating:
The purchase was personal. The planet will become a park.
This is uncharted terrain. It will require experimentation.
If Swift’s Gulliver washed up, for his nth silly voyage, on the shores of Bezosgendagkt, he’d have but a hagiography to write. The revolutionary treatise for that isle has already been penned by the subterraneans at Berfrois.