The Idea is Read About Rather Than Looked Atby Chris Campanioni
You Google double zero and eventually (inevitably) land on Wikipedia, on or at or inside the massive electronic encyclopedia, which lists no actual subject but over thirteen possible references, including the designation for an agent with a license to kill and the women’s clothing size in the U.S. catalogue sizes system. The fact that the word is almost unclassifiable—simultaneously an abbreviation used on signs to indicate a public toilet in Germany and an album by the alternative rock band Judybats—might be the best way to herald its newest reference. Chris Hosea’s Double Zero (Prelude, 2016) eludes the conventions of language and generic markers and alludes to pop and personal experience with an intensity and a haste that makes repeated readings a requirement, not a suggestion. Pay attention, Hosea seems to be saying, as he ricochets words off one another with no regard to syntax or narrative construction. It’s going to be worth it.
And some of it is.
And when Hosea connects, in those intermittent moments between association and asphyxia, he hits hard, because he only ever swings in one tempo: full throttle. One of these revelatory sequences occurs early, in “The Final Countdown,” as Hosea re-evaluates intimacy in 2016 by confronting the iterative process of dating, and daters, everyone just a click, or conjure-mid-thought away, a universe of faces and likenesses and all of them held close, capable of being cupped.
make our voices tiny precious
scary vicious how
you can say anything
when you’ve sucked a balloon
the smallest put down now so cute
it is acceptable for you to be
thinking of him while you take me faster
what joins us stretching giving
who doesn’t because there isn’t just one
of him or one of me or you
in this many universes
Hosea’s second full-length collection arrives on the heels of his prize-winning debut, Put Your Hands In (LSU Press, 2014), which was selected by John Ashbery for the 2013 Walt Whitman Award. Hosea’s work shares a lot with Ashbery’s and other poets in the New York School; but more than the trademark urban sensibility and oft-ironic-sometimes-serious attitude, Hosea is putting into practice what William S. Burroughs adopted in prose and Brion Gysin reanimated in painting. The cut-up method, I’ve always believed, gains its charge by the context the reader brings to the accumulation of the rearranged words on the page. It’s a process that can effect a polarization because of the winking affectation: collage and pastiche, a recycling and reconstruction of found language that, depending on your view on art, either cheapens the technical aspects of the art object or ignites it. Of course, language is always found elsewhere, and as it breathes, so do we, taking in words at the same moment we exhale them to become somewhere—and someone—new.
Readers often either feel detached from the cut-up, unable to make sense of the arrangement, or else they actually feel a part of the text, as much or more than the words on the page, reframing it in their own experience and by their own associations produced by the gaps and leaps in narrative, and the disintegration of structure and syntax in service of a very private, primal sensation. And it’s these moments where the text can become truly transcendent, bridging the experience of the writer and the reader in ways that literature has always endeavored to do: a range of human experience in just one sentence, or one sound, but even more synchronous and nuanced—the semblance of a sentence or a sound, the memory we bring to words and sounds, in a sentence or broken by lineation and the pause of a stuttering caesura.
Hosea’s excess of language and sensation, more than any recent poetry collection, captures the unlimited economy of text and experience in 2016, a life that is constantly refreshing as our thumbs push forward on our personal screens, “pictures quoted in pictures” as he writes in “Little Carbon Book”—or perhaps the clearest catch-all critique of post-internet culture: “The idea is read about rather than looked at.” Except, without really engaging with our gaze, all we really ever do is look at things. And maybe the collection’s breakneck tempo is also a reflection—and reaction—to this; a moment in our time that has been captured and resituated to look at from all angles—everything all at once and at the same time. Within this continuous stream of skin and sensation, Double Zero reveals occasional epiphanies, if you know where to look or where to pause on a page. “You can’t have it all, but you can have some/of everything,” Hosea promises in “Who Is The Big Winner;” and in fact, if you never blink, you’ll never know what you haven’t lost out on.
This relentless approach to language can often have the upshot of totally displacing the reader—which might be the point—but even so, Hosea’s best pieces are in fact his prose poems, the ones where those required pauses are signposted on the page. His sprawling, confessionary “Tape Hiss” is the book’s artist statement, but also a statement for our generation, tracing the last two decades in the span of a few sentences, colliding internet piracy, social media sharing, promotional intimacy, and the ubiquitous fear of missing out with the Etch-A-Sketch possibilities of a tape recorder, another favorite tool of Burroughs, whose declaration, “What I have to say is everywhere now” bookends Hosea’s concerns, almost forty years later.
There is nothing to not erase. Much too much nothing. All there is. Tapes you erase as you go, always, because this is how new wonder works: capture, replay, decay, tangle, computer monitor disaster. Shake and see. Etch A Sketch of noise. First thing you can write music on then write music over former songs write it with music again wipe all when putting down your own words spoken. …. Everything now a mistake, just a take, a scratched take, okay, this is take three. An act of theft a piracy outlaw you share crimes. Property promotional. So you show another what you have stolen and this bravery breeds intimacy. Another economy when you can exploit scarcity or getting the stuff in advance. You have to choose. Always you could have chosen other moments, other seconds, other spaces, other sounds, other sounds, other stations, other words, other friends, other lovers, other orders, other passive intentions. You missed out, you know it. You in fact just are this missing, sodden archive of unlogged roads traveled.
Although Hosea entertains the notion, “[It is] disappointing that books are written by persons,” a page later, he encourages the process that can seem automated or algorithmic at first glance, a process that, when it coheres, can produce such human insight.
I want to recall what I always knew
I want to eroticize time
Make something which lives
The function I am engaged in
That’s his business it’s not up to me
The art of others better than his own
Through all of Hosea’s stream-of-consciousness narration and second- and third-person interjections, he is really only ever addressing the reader, allowing them entry into Double Zero and providing unlimited access. By giving the reader absolute agency, he is making a statement about art itself, the elasticity and permeability of language that makes it so beautiful and unhinged, beautiful because it is always on the verge of its own derailment. “Anymore anymore or more”—and sometimes even, may I have another?
CHRIS CAMPANIONI has worked as a journalist, model, and actor, and he teaches literature and creative writing at Baruch College and Pace University. His “Billboards” poem that responded to Latino stereotypes and mutable—and often muted—identity in the fashion world was awarded the 2013 Academy of American Poets Prize and his novel Going Down was selected as Best First Book at the 2014 International Latino Book Awards. He edits PANK, Tupelo Quarterly, and At Large Magazine and lives in Brooklyn, where he wrote his new book, Death of Art (C&R Press).