Saturday, June 15, 2013

Matias Viegener's 2500 Random Things About Me Too

Have you noticed how fashionable randomness is right now? Random is the new black. - 2,500 Random Things About Me Too

    The virtual documentation of our lives has become so commonplace (and, still continues, even while the NSA rifles through American citizens’ personal data) that the majority of people, including myself, almost don’t remember WHAT the world was like without social networks. Sadly, most of what is written into the ether is ignored. The truth is that the average person can’t cope with the onslaught of compulsive, collective thought. However, for artists like Matias Viegener, interacting with Facebook on a daily basis with a conscious artistic goal paid off with literary results: The memoir, 2500 Random Things About Me Too (copyright 2012 Les Figues Press).

   Viegener, a writer, and instructor at CalArts, decided to write 25 posts a day on Facebook - random things - until he reached 2,500 posts (I believe he reached more than that, but, for the purposes of the book, and this review, it’s officially “2,500”). In reality, this isn’t a big deal. Millions of FB members clog the Internet every day with meaningless drivel. The difference is this that Viegener created a highly personal memoir by not-so-randomly reconstructing the varied facets of his life.
   2500 opens with, People think I am American but inside I am foreign. (post 1, ch i); a great opening line for a memoir, but, one that’s not supposed to be intentional. Fortunately, the human brain is designed to recognize and sort through patterns of thought, and this is reflected in each chapter, though, with the non-sequential chapter numbers, one may be led to believe otherwise.
    Viegener reveals parts of himself that can’t help but tie together; real-time, intimate observations of his dying canine companion Peggy (I intend to let go of Peggy when the time is right. I think she still has a few more weeks. I’m mourning her a little now, while she’s still here to comfort me. She seems not to be suffering, just sort of evaporating. - post 7, ch liii);  pithy, in-the-moment views on art (Some people just pose in front of art. They want to be seen in its company - post 13, ch. ixxxix); sexual orientation (It is interesting that we don’t seem to think of homosexuality as innocent. - post 25, ch lxvii); an anecdotal history of his immigrant parents (My parents had an appreciation for certain things about American culture. Wooden ducks, decoys. Moonshine jugs. Collapsed barns. These must all sound like the cliches of Americana, but through my mother I came to see them as very exotic. - v. 6, ch xxviii); and, the impact of the death of his mother (I’d destroy every conceptual art piece on earth to spend an afternoon with my mother again.” - post 17, ch xci).

    Viegener spends a great deal of time consciously reflecting on the process of keeping his posts “random,” as well as the the effect his posts have on his FB friends (Sometimes people’s comments on my random things are better than my random things. - post 3, ch xxxiv). On the surface, the overall effect of 2500 could be construed as narcissistic, another subject which Viegener opines, however, that is not the case. Viegener has a highly disciplined and well-organized mind, which is reflected in his succinct and engrossing conversational style, and, in the spiral patterns of his narrative. He can’t help but go back to the most important topics - the foundations of his personal history, and those immediate things/incidents which eventually become woven into the tapestry of who Viegener has become/is becoming.  

    2500 Random Things About Me Too serves to the reader an invaluable lesson: in revealing ourselves, even in the virtual world, we cannot escape, and, we must come to terms with, the totality of who each of us “is,” especially under our own scrutiny.

2500 Random Things About Me Too, Matias Viegener, (copyright 2012 Les Figues Press,, 978-934254-35-6, 255 pages, $15.00

book content ©  2012 Matias Viegener
article content ©  2013 Marie Lecrivain

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Emilio and Enrique - Gonzalez Avenue poets' The Problem with Oxnard

The Problem with Oxnard, a small (literally) chapbook of poems by Emilio and Enrique – Gonzalez Avenue poets (copyright 2012 Emilio and Enrique - Gonzalez Ave poets - layout produced by Brass Tacks), presents a conundrum of sorts. Google the phrase “the problem with Oxnard,” and in the top three Internet searches is the comment “a small city with big problems.” Try to google the names of Emilio and Enrique, and one gets nothing... and, no response to my email query for information about this neat little chapbook. So, with that in mind, here is my assessment.

    Manifestos can come in any form – big, small, bombastic, unassuming. The cover, an image of a strawberry (one of the Ventura County's more popular crops), with an insert of the title, is intriguing in its simplicity. Oxnard packs a punch, with no apologies. The introduction explains, as many people are wont to forget, that Oxnard used to be part of what was once Mexico (or, Azteca, according to the authors). Anyone who has driven up the California Coast, or Route 126, will no doubt remember that the landscape is populated with fruit stands, and, in the warmer part of the year, with migrant workers who harvest the produce. The poets, whose roots go deep into the soil of Oxnard itself, invite the reader to experience the dichotomy that is Oxnard, with their straightforward and 'staccato' verse.

Oxnard contains seven poems, which seems a bit on the skimpy side, however, each little poem captures accurately, and beautifully, the sinister weirdness of living in a place millions obliviously travel through every year. The first poem, “Detour Use Gonzalez,” tells the story of life's goals being detoured, by circumstance, class oppression, and diminished expectations. From there, the next few poems “Often,Thirsty,” “The Migrants,” “Over the Land,” and “Land of Opportunity,” spell out the alienation, and, the discrimination, migrant workers, and their children, have faced/still face in land that once belonged to their ancestors (from “Over the Land:):

As we look out
Over the land, this land -
the land we manage
and harvest with our hands
we know it is not our earth
but that of men, with
strange children, who live
far away – their names
are on the paper that pays us -
but they never come
to these bountiful, dirty
beautiful acres we work
and have for years where we
hear our brown children cry
for beans and rice... never
the strawberries, kale
asparagus and flowers we pick -
and send to unknown tribes-
but the meager food of
an honest people who
are simply seeking
a better day.

    The overall tone of the poems in Oxnard are strong, and, infused with the dignity of the migrant workers the authors extol; that's what saves this little gem of a book from the falling into the ponderous whirlpool of angry political poetry. The other two poems “Oxnard,” and “Stars,” are as close to pastoral as I believe the poets can wax about the strange beauty of their home (from “Stars”):

The same star
on one side
of the sky -
then another;
emerald with
blue glints
over Oxnard -
appearing red
and orange
above the unlit
darkness of Highway 1 -
a scattering of them
to the south, to match
Palos Verdes; jumble
of jewels... confusing
how these myriad
points of light
owe so little
to our world.

    Here is the fun part: where to pick up a copy of The Problem with Oxnard. I emailed Brass Tacks Press. One of their editors/publishers answered my questions, and, was nice enough to let me know that Oxnard is self-published; as in, it's not officially part of the Brass Tacks Press catalog of books (ps: they have some awesome titles!). Brass Tacks lent their “aegis,” (production expertise), to the authors of Oxnard. Since Emilio and Enrique don't seem to check their email very often, the only place I can tell you to find a copy of Oxnard is at Skylight Books (1818 N. Vermont Ave, Los Angeles, 90027), in the Art/Zine/Graphic Novel section of their store.

    The Problem With Oxnard successfully documents what most Californians prefer to forget; the sins of history cannot be concealed by the sweet smell of (agricultural/retail) commerce. Poets like Emilio and Enrique, will always remember, and, that is necessary.

  The Problem With Oxnard, (copyright Emilio and Enrique, Gonzalez Avenue poets, - layout done Brass Tacks Press_Mini Brass Tacks), 18 pages, $3, available at Skylight Books, .

poetry content © 2013 Emilio and Enrique - Gonzalez Avenue poets

article content © 2013 Marie Lecrivain