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In Benjamin Friedlander’s newest poems the lyric I is both abject and plural. A cacophony of rhetorically enfranchised voices, fused in the very crash of discourse that grinds their speech into noise. First shared on “the Flarf list” – a forum for writers who use found language, search engines, and textual mash-ups to produce a new kind of poetic volatility – the work in Citizen Cain sets Flarf's playfully destructive gaze on the poet's own social imagination. The results flit between identification and disidentification, knotted by inferences that make this work as worthy of close reading as the condensed lyrics of Friedlander's earlier collections, The Missing Occasion of Saying Yes (Subpress, 2007) and A Knot Is Not a Tangle (Krupskaya, 2000). Ezra Pound famously defined poetry as language charged with meaning. But the full range of affects involved in that charge was never acknowledged. Citizen Cain makes those affects its subject matter, in a dizzying array of cathected objects. From “Anakin Skywalker” to Zidane's golden ball, from "Mrs Hitler's Dachshund" to "Prosty / the Spokes-gland," from turkey baster and overdrive pedal to user profile and Seder plate.
‘Citizen Cain is the slightly queasy-making darker brother, fusing the nimble to the clumsy, the erudite to the banal, in lines that swing with the unerring timing of a punked-up oracular klezmer. Its knowing send-ups of world politics and mass culture jostle each other as one Google-searched term leads to another in uproariously sardonic semi-sequiturs that pave the road to Amerikan hell. “A poem is not a spoil of war.” Not these anyway. Welcome these huddled masses of scathing critique into your national bosom. Bring ’em on!’ —Maria Damon
‘Benjamin Friedlander speaks with a survivor's humor and ungainsayable clarity of what we had thought to forget.’ —Robert Creeley
‘Just from reading its title, you can tell that Citizen Cain is really good – to use an adjective that some folks say flarf is trying to delegitimize. Cain is a citizen with full keystroke rights, which the enlightened reader (good grammar & thoughtful hygiene, correct distance in all interactions) would love to abject. Friedlander, however, is anti-abjection. Cain is an update of Williams's ‘from the mouths of Polish mothers.’
Ethical cardioversions [look it up] happen throughout the book. It keeps you on your toes. The only posture that makes poetry bearable. Every word counts, is meant ethically, is a travesty, occasions hysterical laughter, hysterical weeping, clear-eyed quizzicalness. What else to want?’ —Bob Perelman
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