Dan Hoy & Jon Leon
Glory Hole & The Hot Tub
reviewed by Dan Magers
Dan Hoy's Glory Hole rains down invectives and disenchantment with the force of moral imperative, while Jon Leon's The Hot Tub perambulates through scenes seemingly from a lost Bret Easton Ellis novel in a haze of drugged out languor. But both are basically about Awesomeness. Actions and utterances are always taken to the nth degree: "I feel like the circle circumscribing everything." (Hoy) "Listening to the songs that make my life rule and thinking about how much fun it was." (Leon) "I have so much / power I end up vomiting space." (Hoy) "This is what they said writing was all about. I've managed to extend its apparition to infinity." (Leon). The lack of depth masquerading as lack of depth in this split chapbook release from Mal-O-Mar Editions gradually reveals a psychological exhaustion (emphasis on psyche = soul) that both poets implicitly acknowledge, even channel, but cannot or choose not to confront directly, glorying instead in the specter of grandeur and decadence.
The hilarious, staccato blasts of contempt and pain that are Dan Hoy's poems gradually bring to mind the Dennis Cooper poem "Elliott Smith at 14", quoted in part here:
I hug my friends until we're bruised. I won't quit hugging them, not if they scream at me to stop. Every- thing's a machine. Snort it. Everyone's a ride. I won't stop riding us until the barf backs up in my throat. Everyone's fantastic every second. Suddenly one of us is torn apart by a machine, but I'm too real to care. Fuck you.
Cooper, in his mid-fifties, is canny enough to position this rant into the articulate inarticulateness of a teen fuckup destined for greatness. This makes "Fuck you" acceptable. While the tone of Hoy's poems are similar, there is no suggestion that the poems come from anyone besides the persona of a totally jaded adult staring down mediocrity. This at once makes Hoy's persona less endearing, less vulnerable, and the poems themselves more vulnerable (to criticism). "I spent a whole season once without / a drop of water and so did the dirt / I slept with" does not play so well in more high-minded circles.
The almost vampiric malice of the poems are little-guarded by pyrotechnic wordplay or syntax manipulation. Poems launch, punch your gut, and peace out. "I Won't Stop Ever" in its entirety:
What I want is tucked away in the small of your back like a tapeworm. I'd give my firstborn for a tool calibrated to waste no energy and no measurable amount of time. The needle will sedate them first, if you're scared. My life saves lives.
The poems' simple declarative sentences sometimes get extra torque with a combination of creative enjambment and seeming non sequitur that either clips a sentence before we expect:
I make out with oracles or what's the point.
or extends its scope further:
I teach the kids with shit for brains and the illest aracana mundi in the world.
Speaking of aracana mundi, Glory Hole displays a strange fascination with spirituality and mysticism couched in poems generally concerned with work and play: "Tetragrammatron", "Mediums", are tossed out there; a poem is called "I Can Feel My Brain Already in the Christ Grid"; and once the speaker remarks: "O resplendent Angel Gabriel, I'm sure it was / technically the opposite of black magick / but come on." What is this gesturing to? When exactly does posturing gets confused with sincerity? "I feed on plasma and cry a lot / and suck at feelings."
Glory Hole is like the emotional version of Irving Kristol's definition of neoconservative as "a liberal who has been mugged by reality." The poetry is like a wound that grew a nasty scar which inspires a combination of fear, awe, and disgust. Going into its motivations feels futile and is actively discouraged: "History is for kids. Tomorrow / is full of horror, stupidity and death."
While Glory Hole's jadedness has a take-on-all-comers jitteriness, The Hot Tub languidly moves through time and space. The time and space of Jon Leon's poems is much more specific than Hoy's (read Los Angeles). Like Ellis, the speaker describes excess and indulgence matter-of-factly, as if none of it is a big deal. "I dunk my waist into a hot tub at Sundance. Some babes arrive in white bikinis with Ketel One. They are like snowflakes in tangerine boots eating Doritos."
The Hot Tub's untitled opening poem sets the stage, and is actually at an emotional pitch above the sequence that follows it. While the rest of the poems are narrated by the protagonist in a clinical, novelistic fashion, the opening poem is directed at a specific, unnamed person in a voice that is gushing, intimate, druggy, and hyper-sincere, "I'm so glad you're here. I love you. I was listening to The Barclay Hour. It's the only thing that makes me feel good. I wrote this vignette for you. I need you to listen to me and make me feel good and party with me…At the museum I was looking at The Abduction of Europa. All I could think about was how real it is to be alive…Listening to the songs that make my life rule and thinking about how much fun it was."
The poems move like compressed scenes from Less Than Zero, and it is easy to forget that this is apparently supposed to be contemporary, replete with Facebook, mp3s, American Apparel, and Cory Kennedy eating a slice. Leon encourages this confusion with continuous 80s references to Michael Kors, "99 Luftballons", Time-Life cassettes. Leon even writes scenes with things that are downright anachronistic, such as when the speaker calls his broker from "a wall of payphones."
The broker says "the open market is drowning," but in the context our current economic waste land, the mixture of cheesy excess and eighties iconography gradually exposes the ridiculousness of virtually everything the speaker says, does, and feels. This sense of the ridiculousness is what separates The Hot Tub from the deadpan tone of Ellis. This might suggest that The Hot Tub is mere materialistic critique or satire, but there is more to it than that. "Sike, I'm at home, my life is a warzone, wondering where the people are."
Another anachronism is telling. After typical Hot Tub activity ("I pinch my crotch as a limo rolls past."), the speaker describes how, "I go into a vacant building that's empty, pop some batteries into my Walkman, and dance myself to tears." Why is the speaker fooling with a Walkman? Nostalgia, certainly. Earlier in the poem ("California") he says "In my head, I'm rolling back the years." The Hot Tub is the work of nostalgia for certain kinds of aspirations that the poet rationally knows 1). cannot happen and 2). are dumb. It is like when David Thomson, describing The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant says it "still has no equal in its simultaneous delight in 'style' while pouring acid over the image." To put it another way, The Hot Tub is emotional kitsch somewhere between Nicki Rose and Yacht Rock.
Hoy and Leon both embody this reaching for emotion without pretending they are not doing so, and in so doing, sometimes say exactly what they mean, and both chapbooks are Awesome because of that. In some quarters this strategy of irony may be scorn-worthy, but this slick veneer is maybe not so much more removed than an earnestness veiled behind a wall of water and tree metaphors. Somehow it may even be more vulnerable. That is not to say that Hoy and Leon cannot or should not strive for less posturing to articulate feelings and ideas. Both seem to have such an ability. Or else they can just go irony forevz.