May 4, 2006

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Poem for the End of Time and Other Poems, by Noelle Kocot (Wave Books, 2006, 59 pages)

Using the Beat tradition as her form of choice, Noelle Kocot introduces a fractured internal landscape through the microscope of New York. Poem for the End of Time and Other Poems is divided into two distinct sections: the first is a series of 15 short, mysterious poems that make little effort to explain themselves; the second is the title poem, a 33-page, sometimes brilliant, sometimes frustrating journey through a New York wasteland.

Like the work of the Beats who carved the trail Kocot walks, her short poems are brief explosions of mostly word sounds, quick violent spurts of imagery and repeated alliteration. The long poem repeats many of the word-play themes of the shorts, only the imagery is more concise, the neighborhood Kocot describes is more palatable.

Ultimately, my frustration at the unfulfilled promise of this young, energetic poet outweighed any enjoyment I might have gained from the poetry. The short poems are ragged and all elbows: the words collide like wayward fireworks. Reading them is an effort in caution. For example, in “Postlude,” Kocot begins the poem with, “Surface of the limit / Index of pain / My signature in a bucket / The twilight hung, an asterisk / Above the barefoot knells / While I sang to you.” Forget trying to decipher the meaning of the poem for the moment, and feel what your tongue does trying to wind its way through the minefield of all those hard consonants. It’s unpleasant, though I’m certain it’s also intentional.

The title poem, though, has more power, primarily due to its pedigree. “Poem for the End of Time” finds its roots embedded firmly in the sharp dialogue of Ginsburg’s “Howl” or even Elliot’s “Wasteland.” Sharp and crushing in its pointed condemnation of the gentrification of her native Brooklyn, Kocot’s narrative is every bit as timely as that of the two masters who wrote similar poems before her. External yet deeply personal at the same time, Kocot excels at using repeated phrases and white space to guide the reader through a dismal but strangely compelling landscape where Starbucks has taken over and the narrator feels the loss and betrayal of her sense of place. “What a feral f**ked-up riff on the Walden experiment my neighborhood,” she writes.

Kocot does not have the word chops yet to convey the poignant sadness of Elliot or the frightening earnestness of Ginsburg, but in “Poem for the End of Time” the relatively new author at least succeeds in my wanting to watch her growth. B

— Dan Szczesny


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