The Honeymoon Stage
According to the American poet Kenneth Goldsmith, we have entered an age of “post-internet” poetry, with poets making various uses of the internet without making “a big deal about it”. Oscar Schwartz’s first collection of poems, The Honeymoon Stage, belongs in this category. It forgoes the proceduralist sampling and collaging techniques of the Flarf poets and Goldsmith himself, but finds overlap with a movement called Alt Lit, which embraces the language and aesthetic of social media and blogs – including a generic use of lower case and minimal punctuation – and the ethos of self-publishing. The back of Schwartz’s book reveals that his poems were originally shared online with friends.
The poems are predictably grounded in popular culture. They make references to Kanye West, Game of Thrones, Rihanna and Pikachu, and the mobile phone is ubiquitous. Some poems blend Dali-esque surrealism with a kind of childishness of the imagination – or perhaps reveal the connection between the two – such as in “i sat on lungs”, when the narrator realises that he has mistaken a giant pair of lungs for a chair, and his vegetarian girlfriend starts “crying for the giant / prehistoric animal who gave up its lungs for me / to sit on”. Some images come across as pointlessly silly, but the untitled and surrealistic sequence of the second section of the book is probably the collection’s highlight, especially when it makes its weird images and one-liners compellingly resonate: “after waking, you always felt certain you had / been kidnapped”.
Other poems amuse with ironic portraits of millennial narcissism. In “Lance Armstrong”, the poem’s lovesick persona declaims: “you make me feel even better than when I feel / fashionable”. In another love poem, the poet, “relentlessly” texting his beloved, recklessly considers the possibility of sharing his “search history”. The self-reflexive poems are also witty. “how to write an e book of poetry” surprises with its scope, beginning with the poet as “foetus” and ending with the poet “vibrating” as part of the matter of the universe. It is like an absurdist version of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
At times the poems come across as being written by a young person for young people on the internet, which is to say that they do not always seem hard-won. However, Australian poetry certainly has space for the “post-internet” aesthetic diversity that this collection represents. KN
Giramondo, 96pp, $24
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 1, 2017 as "Oscar Schwartz, The Honeymoon Stage". Subscribe here.