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April 06, 1969 - Image 5

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1969-04-06

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Sunday, April 6, 1'969

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Page Five

Sunday, April 6, 1969 THE MICHIGAN DAILY

No,

but

I

read

his

books

Poo-tee-weet?

By TOM BROERSMA
Editor's Note: Peter DeVries will de-
liver the annual Hopwood Lecture on
Wednesday, April 9 in Rackham Audi-
torium. Winners of this year's Hop-
wood Awards will be announced at the
lecture.
ETER DEVRIES was once referred to
in the New York Times as "the most
reliably funny comic novelist now at large."
Considering' the enormous quantity of
verbal comedy-puns, parodies, parodoxes
and epigrams-in DeVries' fourteen novels
this claim would seem justified. In addition
to verbal comedy DeVries has created a rich
assortment of comic characters and has de-
vised numerous scenes of brilliant comedy.
Nevertheless, it would not have occurred to
me to call DeVries a comic novelist. Perhaps
the early DeVries novels can appropriately
be termed comic, but in the later novels
comedy and tragedy are mixed together in
a world of Absurdity.
Looking back on the early DeVries novels
and short stories from the vantage point
of the present it seems clear that the comedy
of the early novels arises from the same
sense of Absurdity found in the later novels.
In the early novels the central concern is
the absurdity of everyday life in the com-
munity of Decency.; In the later novels the
central, concern is the Absurdity of Life.
The early DeVries comic characters (found
in the collected short stories, No, But I
Saw The Movie, and in such novels as The
Tunel of Love, Comfort Me With Apples and
The Tents of Wickedness) are Charlie Chap-
lin comedians making social /pratfalls. They
invariably end up prone-with another
woman-thereby jeopardizing their marriage
and their standing in Decency. The Absur-
dity of the characters is their inability to
remain upright and the desperation with
which they react in falling. It is not that
they are prone to evil, but rather than they
are prone to fateful collisions with the

stanadrds of Decency. They are victims
rather than 'masters of it.
The Blood of the Lamb breaks the con-
ventions of comedy established in the early
novels. In this novel the dark face of trage-
dy is introduced into the world of unsuffer-
ing comedy. The Blood of the Lamb is a
modern tragedy and in the development
of DeVries' fiction it stands as a landmark
between the early comedies and the later
novels of Absurdity. It is the story of a man
named Wanderhope-"despair"- a man
who is stripped of love and hope by the
successive deaths of everyone he loves. His
final loss is the death of his daughter. The
child is his "lamb," and in her death by
leukemia--the blood of the lamb-DeVries
re-creates the passion of Christ. With the
death of the child occurs the simultaneous
death of God, for Wanderhope realizes that
an innocent child cannot suffer in a universe
created and controlled by a perfect and
all-powerful God. In despair Wanderhope.
turns to Christ-and hurls a cake into his
face. Wanderhope and Christ are portrayed
by DeVries as actors in an Absurdist drama.
The man of despair is a modern Everyman
who has faced the summons of death and
learned through death that Christ is a
clown, the universe is without meaning and
man is nothing more than the grass of,
the- field.
The later novels have developed the no-
tion of the Absurd. In Reuben, Reuben the
central character, a Scots-Welsh poet named
McGland, attempts suicide by eating Seconal
capsules with a gallon of his favorite ice
cream. His suicide is thwarted when a
woman calls hiM on the telephone and ad-
monishes him to arise and witness the
romantic beauties of the evening-"The
stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels,
blosom one by one in the infinite meadows
of heaven." Such poetry he cannot stomach,
causing him to vomit up the drug. Later
that evening McGland hangs himself, just to
be safe.

In DeVries' latest novel, The Cat's Paja-
mas, we are presented with the pilgrimage
of a Prufrockian professor of English. He
is drawn away from the citadels of wit
and erudition towards an irresistable des-
tiny with the Absurd. During the pilgrimage
the professor assumes the role of a Madison
Avenue ad-man writing Kafkaesque com-
mercials for television. Later he plays the
role of an immigrant banana huckster sing-
ing his schmaltzy heart out for the great
American television family. He ultimately
discovers his destiny in the company of an
idiot boy and an alcoholic dog. For an oc-
cupation he sells cans 'of fresh air, a pro-
duct which he describes with an air of
satisfaction as completely and utterly use-
less.
The Cat's Pajamas is DeVries at his
blackets. The professor is not a man at all
but a construct which DeVries uses to pre-
sent his world of the Absurd. He gorges
himself on Nothing. He cannot forgive God
for not existing. His sole purpose is to dem-
onstrate the purposelessness of life.
The final scene of The Cat's Pajamas
summarizes the Absurd world of DeVries.
The professor spends the evening discours-
ing to the idiot about the work of James
Joyce Later, he takes the reluctant dog for
a walk in the winter night. Returning to
the house he finds himself locked out and
sends the dog into the house through the
dog door to rouse the idiot. Once inside.
the alcoholic canine falls asleep. After sev-
eral attempts to rouse the dog and the idiot
the professor sticks his head in the dog
door in a final attempt to rouse the idiot.
The idiot, like the universe, remains silent.
Finding his head stuck and his body be-
ginning to freeze, the professor reflects with
wry humor that "his end is in sight". This
image of man, his head caught and body
protruding into a cold and silent universe,
captures the assence of Peter DeVries' Ab-
surd world.

Po o-e-eet?

I,

Let me hear a' rock& roll poem

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By JOHN GRAY
Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut,
Jr. Delacorte Press, $5.95.
"Rosewater said an interesting thing to Billy
one time about a book that wasn't science fiction.
He said that everything there was to know about
life was in The Brothers Karamazov, by Feodor
Dostoevsky. 'But that isn't enough any more,'
said Rosewater."
LISTEN:
Kurt Vonnegut has written his famous war
novel and he says that it's a failure.
He's wrong.
It is the story of Billy Pilgrim, a scrawny lad
who goes into the army, goes to the front, gets
captured, lives through the fire-bombing of Dres-
den, marries a fat rich girl who later dies, gets
kidnapped by a flying saucer and 'exhibited in
a zoo on Tralfamador, its home planet, comes
back and finally is shot and killed while giving
a lecture.,
The thing is, though, Billy has come "un-
stuck in time." He lives his life at random,
sometimes forward, sometimes backwards, some-
times jumping thirty years forward or back. This
doesn't make much sense to Billy, or to anyone
else except the Tralfamadorians, who explain it
to him as best they can.
Vonnegut's Tralfamadorians see time as we see
distance: It's all there, it doesn't change. When
they see a dead man, they don't feel bad; they
just note that he seems to be in pretty bad shape
at that particular moment, but after all, there
are plenty of other moments when he feels just
fine.
To the Tralfamadorians, everything, and every
moment in time just is. There's no reason for it,

Poo-tee-mweet

By JIM PETERS
Tonight at Noon, by Adrian
Henri. McKay, $2.95; Snaps,
by Victor Hernandez Cruz,
Random House, $4.95 (paper-
bound $1.95); The Boy from'
the Green Cabaret Tells of
his Mother, by Barry Mac-
Sweeney. McKay,f $2.95.
IT IS HARDLY news to anyone
that a lot of people write
poetry; there are the girls be-
moaning lost loves on paperso
that they can forget their trou-
bles, the old woman using the
page as a psychological release,
and a whole world of lonely
people who find poetry a very
helpful crutch.
But these days the young
people who have found expres-
sion in political and social ac-r
tion have thrown away the
crutch and are using poetry, as
"cultural' expression. This cul-r
ture has passed through many
phases, beat, mod, hippie, etc.;
and each era has had its poets,
men and women who sing of
themselves as groups of people,
who find their poetry in the
movements and rustlings of
their age.
So it is not surprising in the
mixed-media age to find an es-
tablished artist trying his hand
at poetry. In his second book of
poems, Tonight at Noon, British
pop-mod stylist Adrian Henri
tries very hard to make the poet
a public star and performer as
well as the introspective indi-
vidual of past generations. He
tries very hard; and his book,
in its strange progressioh of
poetic forms, is filled with
reader-involving tricks..
But it is precisely in this at-
tempt that he fails, because in
*concentrating on what I am
tempted to call "rock 'n' roll"
poetry appealing to the young,
he ends up with tired poetry in
new words.
The freshness is there some-
times. In the startling "Commer-
cials for 'Bomb' Event," in the
several "Poems Without Words,"
he hollers at his audience to
wake up and do more than read.
He demands an environmental
experience a la the renaissance
in theatre today.
"Summer Poem I" is very
short and specific, a series of
performance directions, "A.
holds up a plastic (or real)
rose." "Love Poem IV:" "A. gives
out shockingpink hearts painted
on squares of white paper to the
prettiest girls in the audience."
But how does one' react to
these "poems" printed in books?
The reader is made to smile
quite easily, as in number 10
from a second section of "Sum-
mer Poems Without Words:"
"The next time you clean your
teeth think about what you're
doing." But this and number 1
which invites us to "try to imag-
ne" our next hangover seem
more appropriate for wooden (or
plastic) plaques inscribed with
some vista of Niagara Falls or
Yellowstone, or for the front of
amusing postcards.
Perhaps this is exactly the

bitter. I suppose Cruz's destruc-
tion of English grammar fits
this well; there is no punctua-
tion and very little subject-verb
agreement, significant of the
conflict between the city, the
megalopolis (the title of an
imagistically bloody poem) and
the frustrated individual. Cruz
realizes there is no hope, but he
is not content.
Compared to the scathing an-
ger and violence of Cruz's work,
the poetry of Barry MacSwee-
ney, The Boy from the Green
Cabaret tells of his Mother,
seems naive; but it stands strong.
because of MacSweeney's superb
use of language, language which
makes us smile or mourn, but
never curse. Having read the
three books of poetry together,
one after the other, I think more
of Cruz as a stylist than Mac-
Sweeney, but I prefer charm to
stark ugliness, no matter how
justifiably real it is.
There is bitterness and the
fear of the encroaching sterile
city; but the book is primarily
love poems, perhaps more un-
derstandably pleasant. The book
is divided into three sections,
including the "Vivienne Poems"
and the "Green Cabaret" sec-
tion.
MacSweeney would be "deep,"
would be intellectual as in the
beginning of "Wlen Van Gogh,"
but his boyishness usually gets
the better of him; and the end-
ing of the poem is comically
cute as usual.
It could be said there is no
substance here, and often it is
true. Poems such as "Foun-
tains," "We," and "Drums" offer
no more than friendly conver-
sation. But it is always good
talk.
Whereas Henri aims at writ-
ing song poems and even uses
the folk-rock format, it is Mac-
Sweeney who is the singer, who
is the warm lover with an in-
nocent smile.

is just is that way: If something's going to hap-
pen,'it does, and so- what?
Anyway, what Billy Pilgrim learns from the
Tralfamadorians, and what Vonnegut seems to
have accepted as the only sane course of action
to take in this world, is that you should concen-
trate on the good moments, because there's noth-
ing you can do about the bad ones.
Vonnegut is an American writer, a very Amer-
ican writer because he speaks to the American
Slob, the comic-book-reading simpleton that we
would all be if we didn't have to worry about
the bad moments in life, the times of war and
massacre and death.
He offers food for the desire to find an answer,
an answer no more complicated than an Ann
Landers colum or a Dale Carnegie friendship
course, an answer to all the questions that louse
us up. He offers us the kind of answer that we
would find at the end of a Batman comic book
and we grab for it because we're starved.
Dostoevsky does tell you. everything there is to
know about life. But, unfortunately, everything
there is to know doesn't answer the question
"Why?" And Vonnegut does, with all the wisdom
of Johnny Appleseed or Superman. "What else?"
is the reply.
Slaughterhouse-Five is not about fire-bombing
of Dresden. The horror of the air raid that killed
twice as many as Hiroshima's puny bomb is only
hinted at. Slaughterhouse-Five is about dealing
with Dresden, and dealing with genocide, and
dealing with death and life."Vonnegut has dealt
with it in the American tradition: he has ignored
it, talked around it, found the simpler way.
And while he was doing it, Vonnegut succeeded
in writing his famous war novel. He succeeded
because he said the only intelligent thing that
can be said about a massacre like Dresden or
perhaps about anything, and he has said it at the
end of his book. It is this:
"PoO-tee-weet?"

I I

1147-

Today's writers ...

I

effect he is setting out to
achieve, but I think it is, rather,
significant of a basic lack of
maturity. When he settles down
a little into the more normal
poem-framework, he exploits
triteness Ato its 'outer limits. I
quote a few lines from "Car
Crash Blues," but this type of
language is used in the poems
"Without You," "Don't Worry/
Everything's Going to be All
Right," and in the fantastically
cliched "Love Is:" "You make
me feel like/someone's driven
me into a wall/baby/You make
me feel like/Sunday night at
the village hall/baby/You make
me feel like a Desert Rat. ..
When he is successful he is
s t r a n g e 1 y exotic. "Galactic
Poem" and "Salad Poem" are
executed with a color and inten-
sity which are rarely found else-
where. Perhaps the best poem of
this collection is the long "I
Want to Paint." Here is Henri
the artist writing a painting on
paper; one can feel the texture
of the emotion.
William Burrough's books may
have a few chuckles here and p
there, but the reader's laughter
is usually an escape from the
horror presented on the page.
So it is with Snaps by Victor
Hernandez Cruz: ". . . or like
they/all retarded/why don't I/
just cut one and/see if they
for/real they for/real lord
they/for real. ..
Here is the dirty hopeless New
York City, real but very scary.
The "snap" could be that of a
switchblade, or of a neck being
broken; or a heart. Perhaps I'mn
more afraid of what Cruz is say-
ing, than disliking his work in

terms of literary accomplish-
ment. Unlike Henri, he knows
his medium; the poems writhe
within this framework Cruz has
constructed. He writes about
children without parents, wives
without husbands, and himself
without his beloved Carmen.
People are in his poems, people
and drugs.,
Despite such frantic lines as
"you bang them people/up/blow
them up/snap their neck/eat
their brains out/burn their
eyes out/knuckles away," (from
"dead man is"), his drug poems,
specifically "Cocaine Galore,"
"white powder iV" and "Coming
Down," are more tender, the
language is less harsh, and the
reality presented certainly less
stark. Brooklyn and the winding
subways run smoothly, the pick-
pockets operate automatically in
some dreamlike ritual which
really affects no one.
Drugs and music are the key-
stones. His rhythms near the
end of the book take on the
pulse of blues. It is never whin-
ning, but hard and driving and

TOM BROERSMA is a grad-
uate student in English who is
currently preparing a thesis on
the works of Peter De Vries.
JIM PETERS is poetry editor
of Generation magazine and a
frequent contributor of music
reviews to The Daily review
pag6.
JOHN GRAY is editor of
BOOKS. He writes reviews
whenever he gets up the nerve.

Hopwood Lecture,
Peter Do Yries, Novelist
Author of:
THE TUNNEL OF LOVE, COMFORT
ME WITH APPLES, THE MACKEREL
PLAZA, THROUGH THE FIELDS OF
CLOVER, THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB,
THE CAT'S PAJAMAS, WITCH'S
MILK, and others. Member of the Na-
tional Institute of Arts and Letters.
Frequent contributer to THE NEW
YORKER.

I

Peter De Vries

"EXPLORING INNERSPACE"
Announcement of Hopwood Awards for 1969
will follow the lecture
Wednesday, April 9, 8:00 P.M.
Rackham Lecture Hall

Blow Yourself
TO POSTER SIZE
2 ft. x 3 ft.
Send any Black and White or Color
Photo, also any newspaper or mago-
zine photo. We will send you a 2 It. x
3 it. BLO-UP...perfett POP ART poster.
A$25 $3 50s
3 ft. x 4 ft. Bo-Up...... $7.50

OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

WORLD CAMPUS AFLOAT
Representatives for World Campus Afloat, Chap-
man College will be in the Union, International
Center, April 3-7 to distribute information about an
accredited semester of around-the-world travel and
shipboard study. Slides will be shown for all inter-
ested students and faculty.
MONDAY, APRIL 7
International Center 5:30 p.m.
For additional information contact World Campus Afloat, Chap-
man College, Orange, Calif. 92666.

F

i

r

I

Photo Jigsaw Puzzle 350
1lIt. x 11/ ft. $ 5
Send any B & W or color photo. Moiled
in 40 easy to "ssemble'pieces.

--,

The University of Michigan
Center for Russian and East European Studies!
and

Your original photo returned undam.
aged. Add 50c postage and handling
for EACH item ordered Send check
or M.O. (No C.O.D.) to:
PHOTO POSTER, INC oept. O-374
210 E. 23rd St., New York, N.Y. 1

Department of Economics

presents a lecture by

11

The University of Michigan
GILBERT and SULLIVAN SOCIETY
ANNOUNCES PETITIONING for
its all-campus summer musical
THE MUSIC MAN,

ALEKSANDER BAJT
Professor of Economics,
University of Ljubljana (Yugoslavia),
and
Visiting Professor of Economics,
University of Virginia

11

on
"MARKET SOCIALISM AND
ECONOMIC REFORM IN YUGOSLAVIA"

TIME: 4:10 p.m. Tuesday. Aoril8

iI

11111

II

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