A Neo-Dada Event

A few years back I had a piece of mine accepted into a neo-dadaist magazine called Maintenant published by a New York Press called Three Rooms Press. It was one of the first poems I wrote during my MFA, and I wanted to offload it on whatever magazine would have it. The poem, pasted below, was a Pynchonian mess: the kind of poem someone would write out of general protest after moving to the only MFA program that would take them: a small liberal arts school in Milledgeville, GA (where Flannery O’Connor wrote her stories of apocalypse, violence, and greed). I’m not sure if it’s Dada. I’m not sure if the editors at Three Rooms did either. There’s a touch of cosmopolitan anxiety, a threat of violence, maybe. Maybe that’s the Dada element they saw. The poem was, to me, about all the humiliating ways people try to be different. The poem’s nightmarish apartment building is a kind of thought experiment about what walking away from neo-liberalism might look like: a guy fussing with his toilet lid.

There was a Zoom reading for all the contributors. Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth was published in the same issue, but he didn’t come. Dressed up in their little digital square, the editors looked ridiculous. They had put streamers in their hair, and they blew on kazoos from time to time. They made little jokes after each reader. They asked me what my favorite Italian food was, when they pronounced my last name. One old man sang his poem. One reader read ten minutes over time. The editors blew their kazoos and told him it was over. He went to long. It was time for someone else. Their face turned read, and they left. Another reader enlisted all his friends to dance his poem. It was embarrassing. The editors knew it. That’s why they dressed funny, as if to tell you they had no part in any of this. Everyone else was embarrassing. They only dressed so.  They asked me what my favorite Italian food was, when they pronounced my last name. I read my poem and hung up.

I’m not sure who was more Dada. The contributors for their withering irony, Thurston Moore for just not showing up, or the old man singing his bad poem a capella. The Dada manifesto is like any other modernist manifesto. The art is in the telling; not the doing. Most of the actual Dada is cuter than it is subversive—a silly joke played at the expense of the believers—a very sad grad student writing poems to a few kazoo playing editors who just don’t give a shit.



There’s something wrong with Mr. Bradddworth,

the new gray tenant.

He’s freakishly tall and skinny

and frayed at both ends,

like a ribbon unwoven

deliberately over time.

It’s not just me.

We tenants heard from up there

these big bangs followed by

these littler bangs,

like a super-ball bouncing

against our teeth,

and we’ve spilt beer

over this all night

in agony.

He showed up last month

with a bag

(one bag)

and hasn’t left his room—

401A, building C.

And the landlord,

born without legs

enough to climb his own stairs,

is spilt beer.

So we go up there,

all of us tenants,

and knock on Bradddworth’s door.

And Miss Silverstein

(with a 5 for both S’s)

brought her spider,

in a glass jar.

Mi55 5ilver5tein smartly

punched holes in the lid.

Mi55e5 5pider’s beer is spilt.

And ‘Ugly’ Derrick ‘Jimmy’ Malloy,

whose pimple scars

look like tattoos in the right light,

is jimmying the lock,

which makes, itself, quiet little bangs.

My brain is a drum,

or a piece of tight cloth.

With the door unlocked,

we rush in,

spilling beer,

and there’s no furniture

save the GOOD VIBES!

poster in the corner of the room,

latticed by the sun, which is

caught in the novelty animal print blinds,

and a TV, blue between inputs.

There’s something wrong with Mr. Bradddworth,

standing at his spotlessly

clean toilet,


and dropping

the lid,

over and          over and          over and.

It’s the sound of a can opening—

its gas shooting out of the red ears

of Bradddworth’s

big, empty head, which

Mi55 5ilver5tein says

we ought to split

under the lid.