Review: Punk Rock Journal by Kathi Georges

Kathi Georges. Punk Rock Journal. New York: Three Rooms Press, 2007. Paperback.

I bought Kathi Georges’ thin collection of poems off a card table set up in the middle of Tompkins Square. Georges’ was at the table selling her book—along with other titles from the small publisher Three Rooms Press—talking about poetry while I flipped through her book, Punk Rock Journal. I had just written a line of poetry on a cardboard box a slam poet was carrying around—he told me that he was poemless and needed a line. I was feeling very writerly and the woman asked me if I had ever read poetry. I told her I was a poet, not a famous one.

I had been walking around the Lower East Side. Boulevardiering. I saw girls with mohawks and old men with mohawks and dogs with mohawks. I saw a memorial spray-painting for Joe Strummer on the brick wall of a bar. I was humming a Wreckless Eric song and Georges’ book—which features an extensive list of obscure punk bands from the late 70s and early 80s on its back cover—seemed to be imbued with the same freeing potential of all those punk bands.

Now, my days of idealist punk rock and anarchy are over, but with all these thoughts and ideas surrounding me, with the bad performance artists on the free concert stage, with the tents of alternative clothing vendors, I remembered why I had originally dyed my hair and went to firehouse shows with a mohawk. I felt, again, like I was a part of something enormous and worthwhile.

Years later I’ve begun to understand that punk rock’s world-altering anarchy is actually angst, that all of us have found a haven in the scene because we were bored in the suburbs.

When I was a teenager the clerk at a music store took a guitar off the wall and played two chords, singing “This is a punk song,” he played the same two chords again and sang “this is another punk song. “See?” he was saying, “punk isn’t any good, listen to some real music, kid.” He sold me four used monitors, hoping I wouldn’t use them in a punk band.

In this sense, Georges’ poems are perfect for the punk rocker. They epitomize the movement. There are a few themes which dominate the book (of course): sex, dancing, revolution, and beer. The poems themselves are fast and short, often monosyllabic and muted, as in “Richard in Detail Dissolving,” where Georges’ writes:

A cunt maintains its dignity. A face distorts.
A lick explodes. The parking brake gets wet.
The spot disappears with flick of wrist.
The last kiss: habit. The last exit: quick.

Mostly, the poems lack the shocking images I had expected to find in a book about punk rock. The metaphors, even, are somewhat expected, as in “The Measurement of Waste,” where Georges’ writes: “Anarchy then was freedom / A whispered lie grew loud.”

As a journal—which the title claims the collection to be—her book accurately captures the sort of disenchantment which the punk rocker encounters as they gain an awareness of the meaninglessness of the scene. The poem “A Show in Light Tells Time,” which is written in four parts, chronicles this disappointment. The poem follows the narrator from the “dull suburb” to a club where she “dance[s] like a maniac. / Forget[s] [she’s] a girl.” She writes that “music as hard as life / will change the world” and realizes that “Music changed. / The world did not.”

As a collection of poetry, however, Georges’ book is less than noteworthy. I had expected to find more beautiful moments of poetry, as the poem “Water,” where Georges’ writes:

In the gentle sea, we drown inside ourselves.
All agree: every me sees me surrounding
others they call he and she.

Earth is no picnic comparatively.

Today, it’s a mistake—
a misspelling of heart.

To me, the book is another passing in the death ledger of punk-rockdom. And perhaps this is Georges’ point. Punk rock was never really about changing the world, it was about destroying it.

One Comment

  1. dr larry myers
    Posted 2 March 2009 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    kathi s work is seminal
    she inspires us all

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