I never set out to write a review of Steve Muhs’s “221 Acres of Fun” from Ugly Duckling Presse. I was just collecting some of my favorite lines. The collection of highlights was just too good not to share.
As a disclaimer, I have long been in love with UDP. They’re a nonprofit publisher out of Brooklyn, New York, and they put together beautiful publications. I first encountered their work in a couple editions of the journal “6x6” I ordered from BookMooch, an online book sharing community. Their books are limited runs with letterpress covers, offset interiors. The production is superb.
While perusing their site, I happened across an excerpt from 221 Acres of Fun:
There is no fucking cycle of life.
For the boring
Linear jeopardy and faith
And spot welder
Flathead pygmy boy
Drink straight whiskey
Smell of salt.
Amusingly, this excerpt is not included in the book. Still, it convinced me to buy the collection.
A 32 page chapbook for $10 may seem like a poor dollar to page ratio, and when you consider that the average words per page is about 35, it looks even worse. This is why I know no economists who are poets or poets who are economists. (I’m sure they’re out there. I mean, Wallace Stevens was an insurance executive.) Then consider how often I’ll crack the spine reading these words over and again.
The first page hooked me with the lines “I collect candy wrappers. / a meaningless job.” I thought, I can identify with this guy. The images vacillate between sounds and concepts, all reflected in the mirror Picasso dropped on his way to the bathroom at Chuck-E-Cheese’s.
Muhs’s sense of timing and rhythm make for stellar lines:
“A plunger. I want a plunger. / I want to plunder a village” – where the alliteration and repetition and unexpected combination of images is unsettling/awakening. And yet, why not plunder a village with a plunger. An army of plumbers armed with plungers could definitely plunder a village. I want to plunge a village -- into darkness? meaning, to unclog? I want to clean out a village. Villains live in villages anyhow. You start to see why I value these words over the 10,000 in that novel – what was it called? – I read last month. This is also why I like to black out words in books to edit down my own version.
I had to read this line to my wife. “Everything at the thrift store. / Bad pottery / Which cannot be found at Walmart.” Exquisitely true. I’ve always loved the line from Douglas Adams’s “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” about some spaceships that hang in the air exactly the way that bricks don’t. The same sort of setup and punchline works here, illuminating a truth about thrift stores and Walmart, which stands at observation. The extension is a comment on our loss of humanity exemplified by corporate box stores. Or perhaps the amount of crap people acquire or create then donate for someone else to acquire for a dollar.
One of the reviews claimed some relationship between Muhs’s work and flarf. From the little I know, that sounds plausible, but I’d describe it as prismatic. The colors that you see are wildly entrancing, dancing on the edges of what you expect to see.
Steve Muhs has done put together a fine collection here, illustrated his own cover (self-portrait?) and left me wanting more. The next time I order from UDP, I’ll pick up 6x6 #26 for a little more Muhsing.