Julian Brolaski’s gowanus atropolis tears a ragged, seductive hole in the fabric of contemporary poetry, offering its readers a wild ride through destruction and redemption with its shockingly inventive lexicon and spastic interrogation of the social, political, and economic status quo. Brolaski’s linguistic drama unfolds in four sections—“elegy,” “gowanus,” “manahatta,” and “pseudo-archipelago”—the first mourning nature and original self (“not even listening/to thir own babyperson”); the second delving into the world’s toxic muck for beauty; the third exhuming colonial history as a way to complicate one’s sense of belonging and identity; and the fourth further reminding us of both the absurdity and possibility in the remaking of what’s natural—physical landscape, body, or language itself. The illustrious Gowanus Canal provides a backdrop of man’s determination to mold nature to his desire for wealth, the resulting catastrophic pollution, and the looming question of what to do with the mess of human civilization—can art be its salvation? Brolaski’s bold poly-lingual (English-Latin-French-Spanish & more),  neo-lingual, nouveau-archaic language posits a DIY manifesto—if you can’t find it, make it. Fervent flexibility of structure seems the only possible salve for an injured land and a troubled speaker seeking vocation, location, and metamorphosis (“xe calls xemself a ‘singersongwriter,’” the non-binary pronoun indicative of the project of self-making via language). Brolaski’s song cannot be sung from the rank dictionary of “what is.” Embodying a post-modern mash-up of Chaucer, Villon and Stein, the voice emcees a homophonic “shard parade” of a wholly particulate “eenglishe” and characters whose “anthropomorphia aghast” enables readers to envision their own radical transformations. Lines spawn fractal meanings, prompted by misspellings, cleverly figured as minor devil Tutivillus’ doings. In the first poem, “Timor Yorkis,” we’re immediately asked to experiment with variables. Yorkies the dogs? Yorkis like New Yorkers? Or a homophonic translation: To mor’ your kiss? Ersatz words (and “ersatz” itself) flourish; however the stand-ins, not mere under-studies, function as “themselves” too—“the offal of gold” both the “awful” problem of wealth and greed and the strange resurgence of chi-chi locales serving actual offal. Despite heaps of urban grotesqueries, “industrial pawwipe,” “sucking scum,” “decrepit seethings,” gowanus atropolis aurally coaxes with frequent rhyme and alliteration: “since one immured is not forgot / I let a pansy wilt for rot.” As often true with poetry of a slangy or difficult bent, the persistent song-like quality (“eidolon you dote on”) attracts readers even when unusual language or elusive meaning requires patience, positioning Brolaski’s book as supremely subversive, undetectably medicinal, coded for those willing to listen. Perhaps one of the book’s messages, “one’s body will eat of / the sutures / when one has no need/ of a prosthesis / one invents a grammatical order / (& haf done),” asks readers not to foreswear the temporal material self but to revel in how language morphs but nonetheless persists. In the post-apocalyptic, u-topic nowhere of gowanus atropolis, we would know to question “what ys hidden.” It’d be “no thing” “having to strap down disloyal protuberances.” (Unwanted breasts or an unfaithful erection?) The speaker cautions against presumption, modeling doubt, “I fancied I cd smell the bacon from there / or I cd smell bacon but it was not the same bacon.” Hence the question “what ys my anatomie” would be answered only in part by the “transmagnified body,” and more largely with “a name’s / an elastic thing”—a plasticity both dangerous and pressing. gowanus atropolis inverts the debris of our surrounds & our pronouns to say bluntly, the future, as we write it, cd be different.


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