August 7, 2008

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Hallelujah Blackout, by Alex Lemon, (Milkweed Editions, 2008, 144 pages)
By Dan Szczesny news@hippopress.com

Unlike Knox, Alex Lemon’s new modern collection shows bursts of humor along with witty, quirky turns of phrase that help lift some of the less accessible poems out of their own puzzling mire. A relatively new author, the Minnesota poet’s press material has phrases like “edgy” and “frenetic” all over it, and I guess that’s accurate. But what makes Hallelujah Blackout such a fun read is Lemon’s way of winking over his shoulder just at the moment a poem veers into pompous-land. It’s like Lemon knows just how silly all this serious poetry stuff really is, and diffuses the pressure time and time again with quick little asides and charming hooks. In “I Love Cake” Lemon rolls off a bizarre but very funny recipe of his own: “Broil & julienne – the tongues / of lost secrets: flipper / arms, the myth of money and fish.” Is he really talking about cake? Sex? Likely both, but the alliteration between flipper and fish, the connection between arms and tongues, make the line bright and easy to digest. In “So Soon” Lemon rips it up with one of the finest opening lines in a poem I’ve read all year: “You will wheel around the corner / into the bathroom and come // face to face with your nude self cradling / a severed Barbie head and a bucket spilling // over with slivered mango.” How could you possibly not want to read on after that?

Lemon makes some missteps. The book is too long and ambitious to maintain its light tone and good nature through 54 poems, several of which are quite long. And when he gets too fancy with form or print style, he loses some steam. But like John Lennon’s sing-song wit or Lewis Carroll’s dreamy silliness, Hallelujah Blackout illustrates a modern, aggressive poet who knows how to have fun. BDan Szczesny